France was, under Henry the third, in the most afflicting situation, when God who, even in his anger, is mindful of his mercies, gave to the world in a corner of the Barrens of Bordeaux a man, who, notwithstanding his humble condition, was one day to restore to the Church a portion of her ancient splendor, and to render signal service to the State. This child of benediction was born on the Tuesday after Easter, the twenty-fourth day of April 1576, in a small hamlet of the parish of Pouy, in the diocese of Acqs, towards the Pyrenees. His father.was called William de Paul, and his mother, Bertrande de Moras. Their fortune was a medium between extreme necessity and comfortahle mediocrity. Piety, simplicity, and innocence of manners, were a substitute before God, for what–they wanted in the eyes of men. Assiduous labor joined to a very frugal life, supplied the want of a more abundant patrimony, and afforded them the means of relieving those who were poorer than themselves.
God blessed their marriage with six children, two girls and four boys. Vincent, whose life we are writing, was the third; and in a family where every thing was turned to profit, he, Tike his brothers, was employed in the labors of the field. His occupation was that of the young David: like him, he was destined to guard the flock of his father, and we shall often have reason to remark that he never forgot the humility of his first employment.
As soon as Vincent was capable of manifesting his dispositions, he showed that the hand of God directed them to good. That which first discovered itself in him, was a great love for the poor. It might be said that compassion was born with him. His bread, even his clothing, were not his own, when some unfortunate being stood in need of them. It is particularly related of him, that having once laid up thirty sous, a considerable sum for him, and much more so at a time and io a country where money was very scarce, he gave it all to a poor person who appeared to him to be in great distress. There can be no doubt that this sacrifice was very agreeable to Him, who rewards a glass of cold water given in his name; and we may believe that the choice, which God made_ of him long afterwards, to relieve an almost infinite number of unfortunate beings, was the recompense.
A good heart was not the only quality remarkable in young Vincent. The penetration and quickness of his mind soon showed themselves in spite of his want of education. His father, who, as well as others, was struck with this, resolved to afford him an opportunity for study. He was a little discouraged at the idea of the expense; but the hope of being one day indemnified, strengthed his determination. He knew in the neighhorhood a man of a situation in life similar to his own, who, having become prior, had considerably advanced his relations by means of the revenue of his benefice; he did not doubt for a moment that his son, already so zealous for those who suffered, would pursue the same course. He was much deceived. Vincent never set bounds to his charity: the sequel of his life is an incontestableproof of it; but he always believed it sacrilegious to make use of ecclesiastical property, to remove relations from a state in which God had placed them, and out of which he does not usually sanctify them. It was upon this principle, from which he never deviated, that when a curate of his country, some years afterwards, solicited him at Paris, to do something for his family, Vincent, after having made him acknowledge that his brothers could still live by the labor of their hands, showed him that this kind of charity could not draw down the blessing orGod either upon himself or upon them. He reminded him; that those of his relations whom the prior before spoken of had enriched with the property of the sanctuary, after having squandered it all in a short time, had fallen into a more wretched state than that from which they had been relieved. “And it will always be so,” continued he, “because there is no house. solidly constructed, except that of which God is the architect.”
Vincent was about twelve years of age, when his father resolved to make him study. He was sent, as a boarder, to the Cordeliers of Acqs, who being intrusted with the education of a number of young men formed them both to science and piety. They were surprised at the ardor, with which he encountered the first difficulties of grammar, as well as at the success with which the Lord was pleased to bless his labor. But they admired still more his piety, his wisdom, and the purity of his manners. On all occasions they spoke of him with that self-complacency, so natural to teachers, when they witness the fruits of the labor they have bestowed upon their scholars. In four years this holy young man became capable of teaching others. Mr. Commet, a celebrated lawyer of Acqs and judge of Pony, was so struck with the testimony in his favor, that he intrusted the education of his two sons to Vincent. This situation enabled him to pursue his studies, without being a burden to his family. He prosecuted them for the space of five years. His modesty, his prudence, his maturity so far above his age, induced those who had an opportunity of observing him to conclude that a lamp whose light was already so bright, would be very useful in the house of the Lord. They urged him to embrace the ecclesiastical state, in order that he might consecrate himself more particularly to God. He finally consented, and on the twentieth of December 1596, received tonsure and minor orders.
The engagement which he had made with God, obliging– him to look upon him henceforth as his only inheritance, was not for him, a vain cerempny in which the language of the tongue is contradicted by that of the heart. He looked upon the progress which he had hitherto made in learning and virtue, as a mere beginning. To advance more rapidly, he left his country, with the consent of his father who made a new effort to second the designs of so dear a son, and commenced his course of theology. He studied some time at Saragossa. But as the differences of opinion which existed amongst the professors of that famous university, after having divided their minds, began to embitter their hearts, Vincent, who had a natural horror for all such disputes, in which charity loses much more than is gained by truth, returned to France, and resumed his theological studies at Toulouse.
If his success was great, it was not without labor. Instead of allowing himself a little relaxation during the vacations, he used to retire to Buset, there to take charge of the education of a number of respectable children. Their parents confided them with pleasure to a man, whose virtue and capacity were publicly acknowledged. In a short time the school became so flourishing, that it was soon composed of all the best and most distinguished youths of the province. Amongst others, Vincent had for his scholars two grand-nephews of the famous John de la Valette, who had reached the pinnacle of glory by defending the island and city of Malta with fifteen thousand men against the whole force of the Ottoman Empire. The duke of Epernon, a near relation of these two young gentlemen, perceived something so wise and noble in the manner in which the new preceptor had trained them, that he conceived the greatest esteem for him. He did not confine himself to that; but as be was all powerful at court, he wished some years afterwards to procure a bishopric for that holy priest, whose reputation was then increasing every day. Vincent who desired, whatever might be the cost, to finish his studies, and become well versed in theology, returned to Toulouse with his pupils. A teacher and a scholar at the same time, to fulfil all with justice, he went to bed late, rose very early, and abstained from all those diversions which indolence looks upon as a necessary relief. By this prudent management, he was ready for every thing, and he instructed others without ceasing to be instructed himself. He finished a seven years’ course of theology and received the degree of bachelor. Mr. de Sainte Marthe, in the list of the Abbés of Saint Leonard de Chanlme, gives him the rank of doctor. Hitherto we have found no document which proves his claim to this title; but without having the dignity, he had all the merit of it: the steem shown him by Mr. de Bérulle, St. Francis of Sales, the great Condé, MM. de Lamoignon, in fact, by all the enlightened and illustrious men of the age, leaves no room for doubt.
Great as was the ardor which our saint evinced for the study of theology, he did not give himself up to it, so far as to contract that spirit of langor, which offers to piety an injury which the most extensive science cannot repair. The desire which he had to learn, was always subordinate to his desire of sanctifying his soul. Hence, in order to unite himself more closely to God, he received the sub-deaconship at Tarbes, on the nineteenth of September 1598,,and the deaconship three months afterwards. The priesthood frightened him on account of its responsibilities and its duties; he dared not ascend to it until a year after his bishop had given him permission. His father, who founded upon him his greatest hopes, had not even the consolation to see him a priest: God disposed of him more than a year before the ordination of his son. The latter consoled himself with the hope of soon being able to offer up for the repose of his soul, the adorable Victim which takes away the sins of the world. We are not able to name with certainty either the day or the place where he first offered up the august sacrifice. We only know that he was so penetrated with the grandeur of that divine action, that not having the courage of celebrating in public, he chose, in order that he might be less troubled, a retired chapel, where he was alone with a priest to assist him according to custom, and a person to serve the mass.
Scarcely had he become a priest, when he was judged capable of being a pastor; and although absent, he was appointed to the parish of Tith by the grand Vicars, who knew better than any others, his zeal, his piety, and his talents. But a compel for having disputed it with him, Vincent who knew that a servant of God should avoid contests, willingly sacrificed his right and pretensions.
Some months after ne had fintsned his course of theology, he was obliged to undertake a voyage, which might have been considered a great misfortune for him, did not the saints know how to find consolation in the execution of the most rigorous. orders of divine Providence. The circumstances were these. A pious person of respectability, who knew how to appreciate virtue, and had for a long time admired that of Vincent of Paul, made him her heir. As be found that in consequence of this inheritance, there were twelve or fifteen hundred livres coming to him from a man who had retired to Marseilles, he went thither, and was satisfied with three hundred crowns.
When he was on the point of returning by land to Toulouse, a gentleman of Languedoc invited him to go with him by sea. It was in the month of July. The weather was very favorable for the voyage, and they calculated on arriving at Narbonne in a day. God had disposed things in a very different manner. The riches of Africa and Asia, which the merchants come to Beaucaire to exchange for those of Europe, generally attract a great number of corsairs from the coast of Barbary into the gulf of Lyons. Three Turkish brigantines attacked the vessel on which Vincent was, and became masters of it after a fight in which courage was forced to yield to numbers. The saint, who had received a wound from an arrow, which pained him long after, had the grief to see the pilot cut to pieces. His new masters chained their prisoners, and after having bound up their wounds carelessly, continued their piratical cruise for seven or eight days. At last, loaded wth booty, they steered for Tunis, where they exposed their merchandize forsale: under.this name, men are upon a par with beasts. Vincent was first purchased by a fisherman; but as he soon perceived that the sea air was injurious to his slave, he sold him again a month afterwards to an old chemist. The saint passed from one extremity to another. He was every day at sea with the fisherman: with the physician he was obliged to keep up the fire of ten or twelve furnaces. Our saint speaks of him as of a man of surprising knowledge, and who possessed above all the important secret of curing the gravel and other similar maladies. The physician always treated his captive with the greatest humanity. A hundred times he offered to share with him his property, and all his knowledge, on condition that he would renounce the Gospel, and embrace the law of Mahomet. But this worthy priest of Jesus Christ preferred to wear his chains, rather than to be freed at such a price. He redoubled his prayers: he endeavored to redouble the tender devotion which he had from his infancy towards the Blessed Virgin; and full of confidence in Him who brings back from the gates of death those whom he has led thither, he did not believe that he should die in a foreign land.
He had lived nearly a year in Tunis, when Acbmet the first, hearing of the talents of his master, gave him an order to repair to Constantinople, to be there employed in his service. The unfortunate physician, overwhelmed by the weight of his own reputation, which forced him to quit his country at an advanced age, died of grief upon the voyage. He left a nephew at Tunis; and, as the slaves constitute a part of the property of their possessors, Vincent had him for his third master. But a report being spread abroad that the ambassador of the Most Christian King had obtained from the Grand Signor the liberty of all the French slaves, those of the Tunissians who first received the news, hastened to get rid of their captives. Vincent once more changed his patron, and Providence seemed to treat him with greater rigor than it had hitherto done.• He fell into the hands of a renegade who was originally from Nice in Provence: this expresses in two words all:that can be imagined most unfortunate. In general, the Mussulman does not like the Christians; but the apostate detests them, because he discovers in their fidelity to God a perpetual censure of his infamous desertion.
This fourth master carried our saint into his temar, that is, a place which he cultivated as a farmer of the prince. Vincent was there occupied in tilling the earth; banished to that arid and desert spot, it would appear natural that he should have lost even the hope of ever recovering his liberty. But there is a God, who changes obstacles into means, and who, to break chains, oftentimes employs the very hand that forged them.
The renegade had three wives. The second, who was a Turk by birth and religion, was the one who served as the instrument of divine mercy. She perceived something great to which she was not accustomed, in the modesty and patience of her slave. As she saw that this unalterable fund of peace and meekness could only spring from a principle superior to the strength of nature, she put a great number of questions to him concerning the law of the Christians, their customs, and their ceremonies. One day she commanded him to sing the praises of the God whom he adored. At this unexpected order, he remembered immediately those affecting words dictated by sorrow to the children of Israel, when they were captives in Babylon, as he himself was in Barbary: “How shall we sing the Song of the Lord in a strange land?” This thought, and the tears that followed it, did not prevent his commencing the psalm: –Super flutnina Babylonis, and afterwards the Salve, Regina. After some hymns of this description, by which the Mahometan was extremely affected, he spoke to her of the grandeur and excellence of the Christian Religion.
The woman returned to her house, surprised and delighted with what she had heard. Without giving herself much trouble about the consequences, she laid open her heart to her husband ; and after having related to him the conversation which she had had with Vincent of Paul, she told him plainly that he had been very wrong in quitting his religion; that from what had been told her of it, she found it extremely good ; and that the God of the Christians did not deserve to be abandoned. A discourse of this nature might naturally have displeased the apostate. But if we have it in our power to quit our first vocation, we cannot stifle the cries of conscience. The renegade filled with confusion made no reply. The next morning he opened himself to Vincent; he assured him that he would seize upon the first opportunity to escape with him, and that he would endeavor to find one in a few days. These few days turned out to be ten months: but at length the moment chosen by Providence arrived. The master and slave went on board a small skiff. The undertaking was a most hazardous one: a puff of wind would have been sufficient to overset the boat, and bury them in the deep: had they been discovered, they could not have avoided the infamous and cruel punishment which the Alcoran decrees against those who abandon it, or who are the cause of its being abandoned. All these dangers could not stop them. They placed their fate in the hands of God. They invoked Her to whom the Church has given the title of the Star of the Sea, and relied upon her protection.. Their hope was not confounded ; every thing succeeded, and on the twenty-eighth of June 1606, they arrived at Aigues-Mortes, whence they proceeded to Avignon.
The renegade was there publicly reconciled in the church of St. Peter, •by the vice legate Joseph Ferrer], arch-bishop of Urbino. Montorio, his predecessor, who conceived a great esteem fdr Vincent, took him with him to Rome. But before entéring upon the narration and consequences of this second voyage, I cannot avoid making known to the reader the manner in which we have become acquainted with the first. If the history of me captivity of Vincent of Paul is calculated to excite curiosity, the history, if I may use the expression, of the singular fact which made it known, is well calculated to give us a high opinion of the esteem which that great man had for humility, and of the astonishing manner in which he put it in practice.
Before leaving Avignon for Rome, the saint wrote to the brother of that Mr. Commet, judge of Pouy, who had loved him so tenderly, begging him to send his letters of ordination. As an absence, so long as his had been, had alarmed all his friends, he gave him a detail of his adventures, such as we have related them. His letter was found, more than fifty years afterwards, amongst other papers by a gentleman of Acqs, a nephew of Mr de Saint Martin. This gentleman, who was acquainted with the strict intimacy between his uncle and our holy priest, placed it in his hands. Mr. de Saint Martin transmitted a faithful copy to his old friend, being well persuaded that according to the custom of all those who are advanced in age, he would grow young again in reading his early adventures.
Although Mr. de Saint Martin had a high idea of the virtueof Vincent of Paul, lie was not acquainted with all its heroism. It was now more than forty years, that this great servant of God found no consolation but in the contempt of himself, and in the rigorous observance of the most profound humility. Every thing that called to mind the labors he had undergone to promote the glory of God, was insupportable to him. As soon as he received the copy of his old letter, he threw it in the fire, and he soon afterwards wrote to Mr. de Saiot Martin, to beg him to send him the original. That pious canon, who perceived the object of the request, was not in a hurry to com-• ply with it. Vincent reiterated his entreaties, and six months before his death he made another effort, but so full of energy, so pressing, that it would have been difficult to elude it, or to help yielding to it, if God who seeks the glory of his saints in proportion to their efforts to conceal it, had not deranged his measures. “I conjure you,” says the saint, ” by the bowels of Jesus Christ, and by all the favors which it has pleased God to grant you, to do me that of sending me the miserable letter which makes mention of Turkey.”
The missionary, who wrote under Vincent of Paul, wisely judged that a letter which he so ardently desired, mast contain something which redounded to his praise. On this account, he slipped a note into the letter, in which he begged Mr. de Saint Martin, to address the one which Vincent claimed, to some other person than the saint, if he would not have it irretrievably lost. Mr. de Saint Martin, being convinced that we may disobey our friends, in order to manifest the graces which God has granted them, followed this advice exactly. He sent the letter which was so much desired to the superior of the seminary established at the collége des Bons Enfans. Without this pious artifice, we should have kno .’ n only in a confused manner the captivity of Vincent of Paul and the glosous triumph which broke his fetters. In the procès verbal of his beatification, only one witness was found who had heard him speak of his. captivity; and Mr. Daulier, secretary of the king, who had known the history from other sources, deposed judicially, that he had purposely tried several times, to bring Vincent to that point, by speaking of Tunis and the Christians who were slaves in the regency, without ever being able to elicit a single word, which would tend to show that the country was known to him.
But it is time to return to our saint, whom we have left at Rome. He did not there yield to curiosity in any thing; but he recompensed himself by granting to piety every thing that could nourish it. He visited the churches and the catacombs. Thirty years afterwards he could not speak but with tender emotion, of the happiness which he enjoyed in walking upon a soil consecrated by the blood of an infinite number of martyrs.
Sweet as were these laudable occupations to a heart of such tender piety, Vincent did not confine himself to them. As, after having fulfilled what he owed to religion and decorum, he had a great deal of time, he resumed his studies. The vice legate lodged him, received him at his table, and furnished his support. He admired. him more and more, he spoke in his praise, whenever an opportunity offered; but this was the very cause of his losing him sooner than he would have washed.
There were then at Rome several French ministers, who were charged near the person of Paul the fifth, with the affairs of the king. Some of them, perhaps all, desired to see a man, of whom the vice legate spoke so advantageously. He appeared; he had different interviews with them; they were pleased with him, and thought they could confide in him. He was charged with an important commission, which required secrecy, prudence, and a man who, being well informed, could confer upon it with the king, as often as the prince might think proper.
The saint arrived in France towards the beginning of the year 1609. He had the honor of an interview with Henry the fourth, which lasted as long as the affair upon which he had been sent, required. That great prince, who was perfectly acquainted with men, was very well satisfied •with the new en voy, and there is no doubt but that, if he had been assiduous in paying his court, he would have been soon rewarded. But Vincent, although a stranger to the gifts of fortune, was possessed of the most noble sentiments; and if Louis the thirteenth had not prevented it by naming him to the abbey of St. Leonard de Chaulme, he would have preferred tp live poor in the hands of Providence, than to expose himself to the contagious air of the court, in order to obtain a rich and commodious situation.
Whilst he waited for the manifestation of the designs of God in his regard, be fulfilled all the duties of christian piety. He carefully visited the sick of the charity hospital; he addressed moving exhortations to them; he waited upon them as his brethren with all possible attention. This charity, to which persons were not much accustomed at that time, served afterwards as a model to the celebrated Mr. Bernard, surnamed the Poor Priest, whose zeal and virtues have acquired him so beautiful and so just a reputation.
One of the first acquaintances which Vincent of Paul formed at Paris, was that of Mr. de Bérulle, who with great reason passed for a model of sacerdotal perfection. His experience in the direction of souls, his success in the conversion of heretics, his aversion for every thing that wore the character of novelty, and above all, his tender love for Jesus Christ, had gained him the esteem of Csar de Bus, of Francis de Sales, indeed, of all those who knew how to esteem virtue. Our saint thought that an intimacy with such a man could not but be advantageous to himself. From the time of his first visit to him, he esteemed him as he deserved, and charity soon formed between those two virtuous priests, strict bonds which were never severed. They were nearly of the same age1. Their inclinations were the same, and they had no other object than the sanctification of their souls, and those of their neighbors. Each had already passed through the fire of tribulation: thus they were calculated to be a mutual support. Vincent was the first, who, after this precious Intimacy, stood in need of consolation. He had not been a year in Paris, when his patience was put to a trial, capable of making him regret the chains he had worn in Barbary.
He lodged in the same room with the Judge of Sore, a small place in the neighborhood of Pouy. The judge having gone out early one morning, forgot to shut a drawer in which he had placed his money. The saint, who was going to take medicine, had remained in his bed. The person who brought it to him, looking around for a tumbler, discovered the money, took it, and carried it away, preserving the greatest serenity: the sum amounted to four hundred crowns.
The judge, on his return, being surprised at not finding his money, demanded it at once, and soon afterwardsin an angry tone. Vincent, who had seen nothing of what had passed, answered that he had neither taken it, nor seen it taken. This was enough t0 increase the bad humor of his countryman. His anger knew no bounds. The silence of the saint, his patience, were proofs in his eyes. He began by expelling him from his society; and this unworthy treatment was only the prelude to a vengeance more complete. He decried him every where, even in the house of M. de Bérulle, as a consummate villain. At a conjuncture so afflicting for a young stranger, especially for a priest who depends so much on his good name, Vincent never lost the peace of his heart. Calumny, which in the judgment of the Holy Ghost disconcerts the wise man, nevered altered his tranquillity. His constant reply was that He, who was one day to judge him, knew his innocence. During the course of this affair, which made a great noise, he preserved such a perfect equanimity, that good people who watched him closely, esteemed more than ever his virtue and his singular talent of possessing his soul in calm and patience.
He who admired him most of all, althnugh much later, was the very judge who had treated him so cruelly. The thief, who as well as himself was from near Bordeaux, was then put in prison for some new crime. He knew the judge of Sore perfectly, and he was not ignorant that the money which had been taken belonged to that person. Urged by remorse of conscience, which usually speaks loudest in the time of affliction, he sent to beg that he would come to him. He acknowledged himself guilty of the theft of which Vincent of Paul had been accused, and promised full restitution. The magistrate then felt the unworthiness of his conduct, and the liveliest horror for his hasty calumnies. To allay his trouble, he besought our saint, in a long letter, to send him his pardon, protesting that if he refused him, “he would come in person to Paris to throw himself at his feet, and beg it of him, with a rope about his neck.” These are his own words, which I have thought it better to use. The holy priest spared him the expense and trouble of so humiliating a step. He had pardoned him in his greatest excess: could he refuse to do so, when he saw him give such positive proofs of sorrow and repentance?
The good use which Vincent made of the accusation of the judge of Sore, did not prevent his perceiving that the society of seculars exposes a priest to a great number of inconveniences. This induced him to seek a place of retreat, where he could labor more easily, for his salvation, and prepare himself for promoting that of others. In the interval of which we have just spoken, his virtue met with a new occasion for displaying, in a most wonderful manner, the liveliness of his faith and the ardor of his charity. To. explain it the better we must notice here certain facts which we had no occasion to mention before.
When Vincent arrived in Paris, he took every possible measure to enable him to live in obscurity. He substituted for his family name, which appeared to him too high sounding, that of his baptism, and it is almost the only one by which he was known. He passed for a poor scholar, who scarcely knew the elements of grammar, although his studies at Toulouse had been highly honorable to him. In fine, he did all he could to obscure his virtue, and he only spoke of himself as the last of men.
But even the seculars who examined him closely, pierced through the cloud in which he endeavored to envelop himself. Of this number was a secretary of Queen Margaret, named du Fresne, a man of’ singular virtue – and integrity. He soon conceived a great esteem for Vincent, and he gave such an advantageous account of him to the princess, that she caused him to be placed on the list of her household, in quality of her ordinary almoner. It was in this new employment that our saint furnished a proof of charity of which there are very few examples in history.
Queen Margaret, who was fond of the conversation of the learned, had near her person an old doctor of theology, who had distinguished himself by his zeal and his labors against the heretics. His faith, which had been hitherto firm, had been shaken by degrees. His heart soon became exposed to temptations of infidelity. The name of Jesus Christ, so well calculated to reanimate his confidence, gave rise to.impressions of fury and blasphemy, which he could scarcely repress. So painful a situation led him to despair. The unfortunate theologian was more than once tempted to throw himself out of the window. Nature at last gave way. Trouble of mind produced corporal derangement. The more his strength diminished, the more violent the temptation became. The evil spirit assailed him with more fury than ever, and he used every effort to inspire him with that implacable hatred which he himself hears to the Son of God. Vincent was afflicted at .seeing his friend in this pitiable condition. He feared lest his lips should at. length open to blasphemy, and his heart to irreligion. To obtain the mercy of God, who punished so rigorously the idleness, and perhaps also the self-complacency to which the doctor had yielded too much, he had recourse to prayer; he imitated in some degree the charity of our Saviour, who took upon himself our weaknesses to heal them, and he offered himself to the Lord as a victim. In order to satisfy .he divine justice, he consented to bear himself either that species of trial, or Any other punishment which God would be pleased to inflict.
So earnest and fervent a prayer, which so nearly resembled the desire of Si. Paul to be anathema for his brethren, was heard in its whole extent. The sick man was entirely delivered from his temptation. A profound peace succeeded the storm. Tue cloud which obscured his faith was dispersed. His tenderness for Jesus Christ was more lively than ever; and until the day of his death, he blessed God for having proportioned the consolation to his past rigor,
But the temptation of the theologian passed into the soul of Vincent of Paul, as rapidly as the leprosy of Naaman attacked Giezi. The first impressions of an evil, which is never felt so much as when we are persdnally assailed by it, appeared to astonish him. The new Job seemed to be a prey to all the furies. of the devil: but far from losing courage, he knew how to make them useful. For that purpose, he made it a law to act always in opposition to what was suggested to him by the seducer. During four years that he had to groan under the weight of this severetrial, he paid with new ardor to the Son of God all the honor that he could render him; and in the hospitals, he served him in the person of the poor, who are his members, with a zealous fervor, of which the most. tranquil faith is scarcely capable. At last God restored him to peace, and it was a new effort of charity, that merited it for him. One day when he was reflecting upon the vio• lence of the evil and the means of arresting it, he took a firm and inviolable resolution to consecrate all his life to the service of the afflicted. Scarcely had he taken this great reso, solution, when the temptation vanished; and his heart tasted a sweet and perfect liberty. He even received the gift of calming those who were tried, as he himself had been. A virtuous priest who knew it by experience, gives testimony of It. The sequel of his history does not permit us to doubt it.
To augment the favors with which God recompensed his patience and fidelity, Vincent determined on leading a more retired life, and joining Mr. de Bérulle. The latter was at that time entirely occupied in establishing his congregation, and in assembling chosen ministers, zealous for the glory of the God Man, who being the Eternal Priest, according to the order of Melchisedech, is the primitive source of the priest.. hood of the new law. This wise and virtuous director, to whom our saint laid open all the avenues of his soul, perceived at once that he was called to something great: he even predicted that God would make use of him, to form a new company of priests, who would cultivate the vineyard of the Lord with great fruit and benediction:
Some time afterwards, he gave him charge, in spite of his repugnance, of the parish of Clichy, a village situated a league from the capital. Vincent soon proved how well calculated he was for that duty. Sermons, catechism, assiduity in the tribunal of penance, were his ordinary occupations. He was to be seen visiting the sick, consoling the afflicted, relieving the poor, restoring the peace of families, strengthening the weak, making himself all to all, to gain all to Jesup Christ.
The most efficacious means, and that which gave the greatest weight to his discourses, was his good example. But as extreme regularity has in it something revolting, he tempered it by attentions of mildness and affability. He painted virtue in colors so beautiful, that it appeared to be full of attractions, and he applied to the crosses with which the road to heaven is strewed, all the unction which can mitigate their asperity. Such prudent conduct conciliated all minds and hearts. The poor, who composed nearly his entire flock, loved him as their father; and the citizens of Paris who had country-seats in his parish, respected him as a saint. The neighboring curates conceived the greatest esteem for him. They consulted him in their doubts, and took a pleasure in learning from him the manner of performing their functions well. In general, it was enough to see him, to form the highest idea of him; and a doctor, who in his time preached at Clichy, repeated more than once that his parishioners universally lived like angels. On such occasions the eulogium of the flock is always that of the vigilance of the pastor and of his labors.
When he saw his people docile to his regulations, he formed a design, the execution of which must be very difficult. His church was falling to ruins: it was without ornaments; and his parishioners who were not rich, could not, without great inconvenience, contribute to repairs which would be very expensive. Vincent himself was poor, and he could not be otherwise, for he was in the habit of giving all he had to those who were in indigence. These obstacles did not stop him; he had his church entirely rebuilt; he supplied it with furniture and ornaments, so that the offices could be performed in it with that decency, which contributes so much to the dignity of worship and to the edification of the people. And what is most singular, none of the expense fell upon the parishioners. There was then in Paris a number of virtuous men, who employed themselves in works of piety; and it gave them pleasure to second the good intentions of a man, who sought nothing but the greatest glory of God.
To increase it more and more, he established the confraternity of the Rosary,’being well persuaded that the honor rendered to the Mother of God, cannot but be very agreeable to her Son. Afterwards, he induced his successor to educate several young clergymen, who, being formed early to the functions of their state, might perform the ceremonies of the church in a manner worthy of Him who is there adored. He himself chose in Paris and elsewhere, those whom he judged most likely to succeed. Thus, although he was sooner obliged than he expected, to quit people so dear to him, he continued to fulfil in their regard the duties of a tender and disinterested pastor. We shall now give an account of the motives which obliged him to separate from his flock.
Although piety was rare enough at court during the minority of Louis the thirteenth, there were nevertheless persons to be found there, whose regularity might serve as a model in happier times. We must place in this number Philip Emmanuel de Gondi, count of Joigni, general of the gallies of France. This nobleman had married Françoise Marguerite de Silly, eldest daughter of the count de la Rochepot, governor of Anjou. She was one of the most accomplished ladies of the age; pious, compassionate, generous, she had no other desire than that of honoring God, and causing him to be honored by all those whom Providence had committed to her care. But as nothing interests a truly Christian mother more than– the education of her children, tMadame de Gondi made it a principal point with her. That she might not be deceived in so essential and decisive a choice, she begged Mr. de Bérulle to give her one of his congregation, who would be able to form to piety and science three of her children, who, more than any one else, stood in need of both, because they were destined by their birth to. possess the first dignities in church and state, which in fact, two of them attained. As to the third, we know only enough of him, to regret him. Scarcely had he reached the age of ten or twelve years, when God delivered him from the corruption of the world, by bestowing upon him a more happy portion in heaven, than he could have found upon earth.
Mr. de Bérulle, instead of granting one of his priests, cast his eyes upon Vincent of Paul, and induced him to enter the house of Gondi, at least upon trial. The saint, who sought nothing but obedience, sacrificed to the desire of his director his taste for the poor, and his repugnance to mixing with the great ones of the world. At the end of 1613, he commenced the education of the young Gondis.
To sanctify himself in this new office, he proposed to himself to honor Jesus Christ in the person of Mr. de Gondi, the Blessed Virgin in that of his virtuous wife, and the disciples of our Saviour in those of the officers and inferior domestics. He candidly acknowledged that this manner of acting, which appears extremely simple, was of great service to him; and that, seeing God alone under different aspects in all the persons with whom he was habitually engaged, this obliged him to do nothing before men, which he would not have done before the Son of God, had he had the happiness of conversing with him in the days of his mortal life.
Although a house, like that of the general of the gallies, in which there was a great number of persons, naturally abounded in temptations to dissipation, the saint lived partly as if he had beep in the deserts of the Thebaide. He took great care to meddle with nothing except what concerned the education of his pupils. His maxim was, that persons do not hold out against the dangers with which the houses of the great are filled, unless they prepare to resist them by silence and reccollectioh. Yet he sacrificed without hesitation the delights of his retreat to the necessity of his neighbor. He established peace among the domestics; the visited them when they were sick, and after having consoled them, performed the meanest offices for them. Some days before every feast, he assembled them and instructed” them in the mysteries which the Church was to celebrate. He taught them how to sanctify those precious days, which, through a misfortune we cannot sufficiently deplore, are generally for masters as well as for those who serve them, days of libertinism, or at least of idleness. He followed the same plan in the country; but he there gave his zeal a greater range. When the general of the gallies took him with his family to his possessions of Joigny, Mohtmirel and Villepreux, he gave all the time he had to spare, to the instruction of the villagers, who generally stood in great need of it. He preached and taught catechism, he administered the sacraments, and particularly that of penance : in a word, he did for them every thing that the most active pastor could do for his flock. It may easily be supposed that a marl so zealous for the salvation of all those who belonged to the house of Gondi, did not neglect those who were at the head of it. He did not suffer any occasion to escape him, for keeping up and animating the great inclination which they had for virtue. His respect for them was not mingled with that base and timid complaisance, which causes some to dissemble an evil, which firmness tempered by proper management, is able to arrest. We will mention an example which is glorious for him. Mr. de Gondi received, or imagined he had received a great affront from a nobleman of the court. His virtue and delicacy of conscience were not proof aigainst a temptation so fatal to many others. The glory of his house, the recollection of the invincible courage of the Marshal de Retz his father, the high rank which he himself held in the kingdom; all these motives presented themselves to his imagination, and deter.: mined him to wash out, in the blood of his enemy, the outrage which he thought he had received. Duels, although recently prohibited anew by Henry the fourth, under penalty of treason, were then so common, as scarcely to be a matter of scruple. We would be almost tempted to believe that some persons looked upon them as acts of virtue. They went commonly to the church, before engaging in them; and seriously recommended to God an affair, the thought of which is an abominable crime in his eyes.
Mr. de Gondi followed that plan : he heard mass with all the devotion of a man resolved to fight immediately afterwards. He even remained in the chapel longer than usual. Vincent of Paul took advantage of this moment. “Suffer me, sir,” said he to the general, at the same time throwing himself at his feet, “suffer me to say one word to you in all humility. I know from a good source that you are going to fight a duel. But I declare to you in the name of my Saviour, whom you have just adored, that if you do not relinquish that wicked design, he will exercise his justice upon you and upon all your posterity.” After these words, to which the fire of charity gave greater weight, Vincent withdrew like a man overwhelmed at once with grief and horror; well resolved however to take other steps, if what he had done should not prove sufficient. But nothing further was necessary. Conscience spoke, and Mr. de Gondi surrendered his revenge to him who has reserved to himself the right of exercising it.
If this action was very honorable to our saint, the whole of his conduct was no less so. His regularity, his modesty, his tact in .banishing even from table useless conversations, and substituting, without any affectation, those wlkich were edifying; in a word, his virtues, gained him every heart. There was hut one opinion with regard to him in the whole family, and never was the almoner of a great lord more universally respected.
Madame de Gondi knew his value more than any person; and he had scarcely been a year in her house, when she resolved to have him for her director. As the perfect knowledge which she already had of his humility, enabled her to judge that he would discover a thousand reasons for declining the charge, she addressed herself to Mr. de Bérulle, and bvtged him to act for her. This was the surest means to overcome all obstacles: so that, although the choice much afflicted the holy priest, he resisted no longer, after resistance had been forbidden.
Virtuous as this lady was at the time when she placed herself under the direction of Vincent of Paul, it was soon evident how much a man full of the spirit of God and who seeks nothing but his glory, can do in the guidance of souls. Madame de Gondi applied herself with new ardor to the practice of the sublimest virtues. Besides the great alms which she distributed, she carefully visited the sick, and thought it an honor to wait on them. She employed no officers on her domains, but such as were of acknowledged probity. She settled the disputes of her vassals amicably, as much-as was possible. Io fine, she spared neither expense nor trouble, in order to cause God to be honored in every place depending on her. Mr. de Gondi was associated in all her good works, hut his duties, calling him sometimes to the court, and sometimes to the extremity of the kingdom, Vincent often took his place in a great number of holy projects. He was the soul, the counsellor of his virtuous penitent. He labored in his sphere, whilst she was occupied in hers. One would have supposed that he had the talent of multiplying himself, so opportunely was lie found in all the places, where he was personally required.
One day, after his recovery from a painful sickness, he went with Madame de Gondi to the chateau of Folleville, when some persons came to intreat him to go to Gannes, a small village about two leagues off. It was to hear the confession of a countryman, who was dangerously ill, and who had said that he would die contented, if he could have the advantage of unbosoming himself to’our holy Priest. Vincent did not delay a moment. The neighbors of the dying man, gave him a very good character. God, who sees the heart, judged very differently. The unfortunate man had his conscience burdened with several mortal sins, which false shame had always prevented him from making known. Whilst the saint was with him, the thought struck him to induce the Ivan to make a general confession. This thought came from God. The sick man, encouraged by the mildness with which his new director treated him, made an effort, and at last declared those secret crimes, which he had never had the strength to discover to any one. This candor, so necessary for a man who was on the point of falling into the hands of the Sovereign Judge, was followed by inexpressible consolation. The penitent found himself relieved from an enormous weight, which had oppressed him for many years. But the most remarkable thing was, that he went from one extreme to the other: and during three days that he still lived, he several times made a kind of public confession of those disorders, which he had so long suppressed, even in the tribunal of pe Dance. The countess of Joigni having gone to visit him according to her custom: “Ah! madam,” he exclaimed, as soon as he perceived her, “I should have been damned, if I had not made a general confession, on account of the many grievous sins which I had not dared to confess.”
This painful acknowledgment edified those who witnessed it; but the countess, who, with regard to the affairs of salvation, was possessed of light far superior to that of the multi tude, was greatly alarmed. “What is this, sir?” she said to Vincent of Paul. ” What have we heard? How much is it to be feared that this may be the case with many of these poor people! Ah! if this man, who passed for a good man, was in a state of damnation, what must it be with others who live so badly? Ah! sir, how many souls are lost! Where is the remedy for this?”
In consequence of these reflections, she begged of our saint to deliver a discourse to the people of Folleville, on the utility of general confessions. He did so on the twenty-fifth of January 1617, the day on which the Church honors the conversion of St. Paul; and God gave such power to his words, that every one hastened to examine his conscience in the bitterness of his heart. After having instructed them solidly, Vincent set himself about hearing their confessions; but the crowd was so great, that he was obliged to obtain aid from Amiens. The zeal of two other priests who joined him, had enough to occupy it. The harvest was so abundant, that these three laborers, who. wished to reap the whole, had scarcely a moment to themselves. As soon as they had finished at Folleville, they commenced in the other villages of the sanie canton. The concourse was similar, and God bestowed the most abundant benediction upon their labors.
This mission of Folleville was the first that Vincent of Paul made. Every year on the twenty-fifth of January, he celebrated it with sentiments of the most lively gratitude, and he returned to God his humble thanksgiving, that the day of the conversion of St. Paul was that on which his congregation had been in a manner conceived. Madame de Gondi, charmed with this happy essay and with the immense fruits to which it gave rise, proposed to herself from that time, to found missions for all her possessions. We shall see hereafter how this design was put in execution.
The joy which that pious lady experienced at the sight of the great good, which our Saint had just effected in a portion of her domains, was soon afterwards troubled by one of the severest trials she had ever experienced ; and that rigorous trial came from the man, who most honored her in the world, I mean from Vincent of Paul himself.
Although that worthy priest had obtained the good will of the whole house of Gondi, as soon as he was known; yet his virtue, which shone more brightly every day, the visible benediction, which God showered upon the most ungrateful soil, from the time he undertook to cultivate ii; in a word, his charity, his labors, his success, made so great an impression upon those with whom he lived, that he was unanimously looked upon as the tutelar angel of the family. Although precautions were taken not to alarm his modesty, he was treated with such marked distinction, that even strangers immediately knew the opinion that a’l had of him. These sentiments, which would have flattered a man less solidly virtuous, were torments for him. He feared lest the rock of vain glory would occasion the same shipwreck to him, which it had occasioned to so many others, who appeared to have arrived at the highest pitch of virtue. The example of a great number of saints, who in conjunctures less perilous, believed it their duty to retreat, presented itself forcibly to his mind, and he resolved to imitate them.
There was still another reason which determined him. God had a long time tried Madame de Gondi by interior pains, so violent and fatiguing, that she was often reduced to the greatest extremities. Vincent, who united a correct judgment to much experience, calmed her uneasiness; and although from time to time her trials revived, she had the consolation of being near a confidential man, who understood her even before she spoke. The holy priest performed with joy these duties of charity, which he would not have refused to the lowest servant; but he could not suffer that Madame de Qondi should look upon him as necessary to her. The attentioi which she showed to a miserable being (for this was the name he gave himself), afflicted him sensibly. Still it increased every day. The lady bore his absence with difficulty ; and her alarmed imagination prompted her often to ask herself what would become of her, if she had the misfortune of being without him, when God would think proper to call her to himself.
Vincent looked upon this excess of alarm as an imperfection, and he endeavored to eradicate it from a soul which was so dear to him. In order to succeed in it, he obliged her to ad dress herself sometimes to another confessor, and above all to a Franciscan friar, with whose wisdom he was acquainted. He forced her to acknowledge, that she had been satisfied with him; and he took advantage of this trial to convince her that God would guide her as well by the ministry of another as by his, if she knew how to place confidence in his infinite goodness.
But neither her past experience, nor the reasons furnished by the saint, could induce that virtuous lady to give up her first impressions; and Vincent, who could not bear that any one should have the least attachment to his particular guidance, became more and more confirmed in his design of withdrawing.
As he had gone to the house of Madame de Gondi, only at the persuasion of Father de Bérulle, he way unwilling to leave her without informing him of it. But he did not enter into a detail of the motives by which he was actuated. He contented himself with saying that he felt himself interiorly urged to give himself up entirely in some distant province, to the instruction and service of the poor country people. Father de Bérulle, who knew how upright the saint was towards God, concluded that so prudent a man would not quit his post but for just reasons: hence he did not oppose this change, which would otherwise have afflicted him. Seeing then that Vincent’s zeal had no determined object, he proposed to him to go and labor at Châtillon-les-Dombes. He assured him that he would there find employment enough, and he was not deceived. For more than a century, that town, surrendered to mercenaries who only came thither to collect the revenue, had not had, properly speaking, either curate or pastor.
Vincent accepted this charge; and having left Paris under pretext of a small journey, ..e took the road to Lyons. A priest of the oratory gave him letters of reccommendation for the Sieur Beynier, who, although a calvinist, furnished him with lodging for some time, because the presbytery was almost in ruins. Beynier received a hundred fold the fruit ‘of his charitable care, as we shall see hereafter.
Some time after his arrival at Chatillon, the saint gave notice of it to the general of the gallies, who was then in Provence, and begged of him to acquiesce in his retreat. He endeavored to persuade him that he had not the talents necessary to educate his children, and he acknowledged that he had left his house without notifying Madame de Gondi of his intention to return no more.
The general, who loved virtue, and who calculated on making new progress in it under the auspices of Vincent, was very much afflicted at his retreat, or rather he was inconsolable; and it was in a style of the greatest grief that he wrote to Madame de Goodi. begging her to employ every means, to induce him to return to his house.
It was on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, that the countess received the letter. She was as much struck by it, as is the traveller by a clap of thunder when he least expects it. She shed a torrent of tears, and, for a considerable time, she neither ate nor slept; but virtue had a great share in the bitterness of her heart, and during this affair, she acted as a truly Christian woman. If she did not neglect the means suggested by human prudence, those which religion furnishes had the preference, and it was by these that she commenced. She prayed with the utmost fervor, and induced every pious person whom she knew, to do the same. She saw Father de Bérulle several times: she opened her heart to him and made known to him the excess of her affliction. Her tears, aided by solid reasons, but reasons always in perfect suhmission to the will of God, had an effect upon this great servant of God. He assured her, that she could, without wounding her conscience, do every thing in her power to effect the return of Vincent to her house; he even gave her hopes that he would unite with her in inducing him to do so.
Upon these principles, the countess wrote several letters to our saint, which are so many proofs of her piety and of the uprightness of her intentions. “1 know,” said she, and these words show the extent of her virtue, “I know that a life like mine, which only serves to offend God, does not deserve to be taken care of: but my soul should at least be assisted at death.”
Motives so pressing, entreaties so earnest, would appear sufficient to prevail with Vincent of Paul; but he was not one of those men, who are imposed upon by the appearance of good. The first thing he did, after having received the letter of Madame de Gondi, was to raise his mind to God, and make a sacrifice to him of all the feelings in which human respect might have a share. He weighed a second time the reasons for and against in the balance of the sanctuary; and as after a new examination, he saw no reason to change his ideas, he wrote an answer to the lady, in which he omitted nothing that could induce her to submit to the orders of God and to enter into all the views of his infinite wisdom.
This answer grieved the pious countess, but did not dishearten her: she did not discontinue making every effort imaginable to induce him to alter his mind. A quantity of letters went every day from Paris and the neighboring places to Chiwtillon. A great number are found from doctors, religions, persons of distinguished birth, from Mr. de Gondi, from the cardinal de Retz, bishop of Paris, his brother; without speaking of those of the principal officers of the household, who had known Vincent too well not to regret him. Father de Bérulle also wrote as he had promised the countess. But he did it in a manner conformable to the exalted wisdom and eminent virtue by which he was distinguished. He contented himself with making known to his friend the excessive desire which Mr. de Gondi had of his return, and the terrible blow which his absence had inflicted upon the countess. He thought hnwever he could not do better, than to constitute him judge in his own cause, and to leave to his prudence the care of examining whether the will of God was sufficiently known to him. These new efforts were not more successful than those hitherto employed. The countess knew not what to do, when she thought of a negotiation which proved effectual. We shall speak of it in the course of this history; it is now time to detail a portion of tile good which Vincent effected at Chatillon. This recital, although abridged, will show beyond doubt, that it was a special Providence which led him to Bresse, and that his presence was more necessary there than any where else.
The idea which had been given him of that place, could not be more correct. God forbid that we should exaggerate evil, for the purpose of honoring him whom God employed to arrest its course. On the contrary, we will diminish it, and give here but a very moderate extract of the procès-verbal made at Chatillon and signed by the principal inhabitants of the place. It is from them we learn the pitiable state in which that city was, when Vincent arrived. Every one gave scandal in his way. Many families, and particularly the most considerable ones, had been infected with the principles of Geneva. Those who retained their faith, dishonored it by the corruption of their morals. Six aged Ecclesiastics, who were all the clergy of Châtillon, instead of opposing the torrent of disorder, rendered it more rapid and contagious by their bad example. This was all the resource of two thousand inhabitants; for there was, at that time, no religious community at Chatillon.
As soon as Vincent arrived there, he applied himself carefully to know the state of his flock. What he discovered both by his own observation and the information of pious persons, terrified him. He concluded at once that he could effect nothing solid, unless he was powerfully seconded. With that view he went to Lyons to seek aid. A doctor of the name of Louis Girard, whose merit and virtue were known in Bresse, was willing to become his associate. They both labored from the beginning of the month of August 1617 with indefatigable zeal, and that happy concert, without which the best laborers can never succeed. Vincent followed at Cltàtillon the method which had succeeded so well at Clichy. He commenced by putting in order the house of the person with whom he lived, as he would have dune his own. They rose at five o’clock. They afterwards made half an hours’ meditation. The office and the holy Mass were said at an appointed time. The pious priests themselves put their chambers in order. There were neither girls nor women to wait in the house. Vincent had made this regulation wish his host.
The new pastor visited regularly twice a day a portion of his flock. He gave the rest of his time to study and the confessional. He had the divine office celebrated with all possible decency. He banished dancing and the scandalous excesses which dishonored the feasts; and in order to augment a little the revenue of his church, he founded two masses in perpetuity; one for the day of St. Vincent, the other for that of St. Paul.
As the bad example of one ecclesiastic often does more harm than the edifying conduct of many others does good, Vincent neglected nothing to reform the priests of his parish. He prevailed on them to abandon entirely all public amusements. After having retrenched abuses, he endeavored to establish the reign of order in the very place where confusion had so long existed. He engaged all his priests to live in community, and to give more time to piety and labor, than they formerly gave to idleness and folly. He managed all minds and hearts with such power, address, and
skill, that every thing succeeded. The whole town was surprised and edified at so prompt and perfect a revolution; and the wise concluded that a man to whom the reform of a clergy like his had cost so little, would be fortunate enough to gain his whole parish to God.
The event verified the conjecture. After the arrangement of which we have spoken, Vincent began to labor for the instruction of the people and the conversion of sinners. He spoke in the pulpit with more strength and unction than ever, and in his discourses which were full of fire, he developed all that the scripture furnishes best calculated to give rise to a fear of the judgment of God, and regret for having offended him.
In order to sustain great truths by great examples, he as- ‘ siduously visited the sick, consoled the poor, made himself poor in order to relieve them. He communicated to others, and even to children, the sentiments of zeal and affection which he had, from his most tender youth, for the suffering members of Jesus Christ. His exterior inspired virtue; he was dressed very simply, wearing the cassock, and the hair short. He was perfectly ignorant of all those profane customs which disorderly ecclesiastics called fashions, and the holy canons worldly manners. This is the testimony which the baron de Chastenai gives of him; a certain proof that seculars consider as important, many things which ecclesiastics too easily ook upon as trifles.
God blessed so many and so wise preparations with a success that exceeded the most flattering hopes. Priests, people, inveterate sinners, all entered upon the good way, and four months had not elapsed, when Chitillan was no longer the same.
Amongst the conversions which God operated by the ministry of his servant, the most remarkable was that of two young ladies of condition, who, filled with the spirit of the world, had hitherto made a bad use of the attractions of their sex and of the advantages of fortune. At the first discourse which Vincent delivered in public, they conceived an exalted idea of his talents. His vehement style made an impression upon them, and they prepared to pay him a visit. The saint, who perceived the trouble of conscience, to which he had given rise, spoke to them with so much force and unction, that they took their determination upon the spot; and without troubling themselves about what the world would say of it, they formed the resolution to bid an eternal adieu to its amusements, and to consecrate themselves without resèrve to Jesus Christ, and to the poor who are his members. They undertook and executed it with a facility at which they were themselves surprised : and their zeal rendered them worthy to be at the head of that pious association which the saint established some time after in favor of the sick, and which under the name of the Confraternity of Charity, served afterwards for a model to a great number of others, as we shall see.
The removal of Vincent, whom those generous ladies lost sooner than they expected, did not diminish their primitive fervor. It was strikingly visible in a famine which occurred, and a short time afterwards, in another dreadful scourge, the pestilence, which laid waste Châtillon. The trouble and alarm of the public took away nothing of the presence of mind, so necessary, yet so rare, on such occasions. Without wishing to tempt God, they put all their confidence in him. They had cabins erected near the city, and there they lodged. It was from thence, as from a salutary and abundant source, that flowed nourishment for the poor, and remedies for those whom the contagion had attacked. Bresse was moved at the spectacle exhibited by two persons, who were so penitent after having been so worldly; and the people could hardly refrain from tears., when they saw them passing whole days and nights in the cottages, where death was seen in its most terrific form.
The conversion of these two ladies contributed greatly to the credit of the holy priest, throughout the country; but there was none better calculated to honor his labors, than that of the count de Rougemont. That nobleman, who had passed all his life at court, had adopted its maxims, and particularly that mania of always being ready to draw his sword, either to revenge those of his friends who asked his aid, or to terminate his personal disputes. He had made himself the terror of the country, and every one feared him as a demon. The reputation of Vincent of Paul being spread throughout all Bresse, the count desired tq be acquainted with a man, of whom he had heard such extraordinary things. He paid him several visits, and in conversation he laid himself open without difficulty on the subject of excesses of which no one was ignorant. The words of the servant of Grin were for him that two edged sword of which the scripture speaks. That man, who had caused so many tears to flow, soon began himself to shed tears. He was terrified at the state of his conscience; and to calm it as soon as possible, he yielded himself up entirely to the guidance of the holy priest. His return to God, was as perfect as it was rapid, and Vincent experienced more difficulty in moderating his fervor, than directors, generally have in exciting those who are deprived of it.
He began by selling his property of Rougemont; and of more than thirty thousand crowns which he received for it, there was not a portion that was not employed, either in founding pious monasteries, or in relieving those who were in indigence. The chateau of Chandes, his usual residence, was a common resort for the religious, and a kind of hospital for the poor. Sick or well, they were there treated with all possible attention. There was none of them on his lands, whom he did not go to visit and serve personally; and when he was obliged to be absent, which was very seldom, he caused them to be visited and waited upon by his domestics.
He had such an exalted idea of voluntary poverty, that, al• though he possessed his property, less as a master than as an economist whose duty it was to make it profitable for the poor, he desired to renounce it entirely. Vincent had occasion for all his authority to prevent him from taking that step, and the count stood in need of all his submission, to yield to his advice. With a view of replacing without interruption one good work by another, he obtained from the archbishop of Lyons, the permission to keep the blessed Sacrament in his chapel, that he might more frequently animate his faith and his charity. There it was; that prostrate at the feet of his judge, he wept with tears of blood the loss of so many souls, which the love of false glory had caused him to precipitate into the abyss. He gave regularly three hours a day, and sometimes four, to meditation. He made it always on his knees, with his head uncovered, without any support, and most frequently on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, his God and his Saviour.
Vincent, from whom he concealed nothing, having one day gone to pay him a visit, the count declared to him that in all his exercises of piety, he had no other object than a perfect detachment from creatures. On that occasion, he told him, that travelling one day, and occupying himself with God along the road, he began to examine with new attention, whether since the time he had endeavored to renounce worldly affections, there was not still some one which was not banished from his heart. He ran over, in his mind, his affairs, his connections, and that infinite crowd of amusements, which captivate a man without his scarcely perceiving it. During this examination, which occupied him a long time, he cast his eyes upon his sword. He asked himself why he still carried it. His agitated mind supplied him with reasons for and against it. He first said to himself that he would be lost, should he be attacked without having it; but he also thought that the facility of using it, might be fatal to him. At this idea he got off his horse, and broke the dangerous instrument of his former disorders against a stone. He acknowledged that this sacrifice had cost him a great deal; but he also admitted that having made it, he experienced a peace, a liberty, and disengagement so entire, that he hoped from henceforth to belong to God alone.
That confidence, which was founded upon the merits of our Saviour alone, was not confounded. The count de Rougemont walked to the last moment in the way in which his director had placed him. He was tried, towards the end of his life, by a long and painful illness, but his love was stronger than his pains. At last, when about to enter into eternity, he earnestly begged of the Fathers Capuchins, and received with respect, the humble habit of St. Francis. That habit of penance appeared to him more glorious than all the dignities with which he had been invested. No one doubted that his death was precious in the sight of the Lord; every one loaded him with benedictions, but not without calling to mind Vincent of Paul, to whom the count was, after God, indebted for his conversion, and without whom he might well have died, as he had so long lived, in disorder and impenitence.
Vincent did not confine his zeal to those of the faith, he extended it also to those whom the new heresies had separated from the Church. One of the first whose conversion he undertook, was Mr. Beynier, with whom he had lodged when lie arrived at Chàtillon. This young man, owing tc his errors and to a considerable fortune, pursued a course of life far from edifying. Vincent showed him the danger to which his heresy and his disorders exposed his eternal salvation. After having separated him from a crowd of libertines who besieged him, he gave him a taste for the truths of faith; and notwithstanding the rage of the ministers with whom Chi-talon was filled, he had the consolation to bring back to the fold the sheep that had been doubly a wanderer. Yet he used every effort to give the honor of his conversion to others, and for that reason he did not wish to receive his abjuration.
If the return of Mr. Beynier was honorable to the zeal and capacity of Vincent of Paul, the regularity of his conduct was no less so. He gave himself up entirely and with surprising facility, to the practice of the greatest virtues of christianity. He resolved to lead a life of celibacy. He gave up in one week two or three farms, which no one demanded, but whose acquisition appeared to him doubtful. He was as liberal towards God. as he had been prodigal in superfluous expenses. In fine, he carried his liberality so far, that in consequence of giving, above all in the time of the pestilence which raged some years afterwards at Chàtillon, he became poor himself. We shall remark, more than once, in the life of Vincent of Paul, that Charity towards his neighbor was his favorite virtue and that he had a singular talent of communicating it to all those who had any intercourse with him.
The conversion of Mr. Beynier was followed by many others; but none made more noise than that of the Messrs. Garron, because there was none to which greater obstacles were opposed. Their father, an old warrior, was one of themost zealous partizans of the reformed religion. The change of Mr. Beynier, his brother-in-law, had greatly incensed him; but when he saw that his own children were about to be undeceived, he could no longer govern himself. ‘rears, prayers, threats, friends, ministers, all was employed, but in vain; for no power can prevail against the designs of God. All his children were converted. The death of the father which soon followed gave new strength to their faith; and they exhibited, some of them in religion, others in the world, great examples of virtue.
The important service which Vincent of Paul had rendered to the Garrons, was never effaced from their minds. Nearly forty years afterwards, one of them having to consult him upon a delicate affair, recalled it to his recollection in the most grateful terms. It was from the same letter that Vincent learned that the charitable association of the servants of the poor, still continued in existence at Châtillon. This good work requires of us that we should say a few words respecting its origin.
Vincent being one day about to go into the pulpit, one of the two ladies, of whom we have spoken before, requested him to recommend to the charity of his parishioners, a family, which was extremely poor, and the greater part of whose members had fallen sick, half a league from the town. He did so with an unction which was hatural to him, and which appeared to redouble, whenever the interest of those who were in poverty, was concerned. God gave such efficacy to his words, that after the sermon a great number of those who had heard it, went to visit them. Some carried bread, others wine–, others different eatables. Vincent went himself after Vespers, and was much surprised to find a multitudé of persons on the road, returning. He praised their zeal, but he did not think it sufficiently prudent. “This,” said he, “is great charity, but it is not well regulated. These sick persons will have too many provisions at one time. Those which will not be immediately consumed, will be spoiled, and these poor people will soon be in the same necessity as before.”
This first reflection induced the saint, who possessed a spirit of arrangement and system, to examine by what means, not only that afflicted family which was actually the object of his zeal, but all those who might thereafter be in similar circumstances, could be relieved according to rules of order. He communicated his observations to some ladies of his parish, who possessed both property and piety. Each one was desirous of having a share in so good a work, and the saint, pro-fitting by these happy dispositions, drew up the plan of a rule which he desired them to try for some time, before putting the seal to it by the approbation of the ecclesiastical superiors. His maxim was that a wiseman should adapt his ideas to experience, and that there are an infinite number of things which, although beautiful in speculation, are neither possible nor advantageous in practice. So that, although he never undertook any thing, without consulting God and asking the advice of the most experienced persons, he took great care to resolve upon nothing without a sufficient trial. He acted thus with regard to the rule of the new confraternity; he did not solicit its approval until three months’ experience had convinced him that there was nothing to risk. It would be difficult, says an eye-witness, to give a relation of all the good which that holy association has produced, the conversions of which it has been the source, the aid which the poor have received from it, above all in the time of the contagion of which we have spoken. The. inhabitants of Bourg and of the neighboring places, who were informed of its advantages, soon established similar ones. The man of God, who was encouraged by this first success, multiplied it during his whole life, as much as he could. In a few years he established it at.Villepreux, Juigni, at Montmirel, and in more than thirty parishes dependent upon the house of Gondi. From thence it passed not only to the capital, but into Lorraine, Savoy, Italy, and many other places which we cannot enumerate. But we may at least conclude that there are, in a great part of Europe, thousands of poor who to this day owe to the charity and prudent industry of Vincent of Paul the temporal and spiritual aid which they receive from the piety of their benefactors.
The saint was entirely occupied with the care of his flock, and already reaping abundant fruit from his labors, when Madame de Gondi, who had never for a moment given up the thought of persuading him, made a last effort, which proved successful. She sent to him a gentleman of her house, who was distinguished for talents and prudence, and was moreover his particular friend. It was Mr. Du Fresne, the gentleman who had caused Vincent to enter into the service of queen Margaret, and whom Vincent in his turn had procured as secretary to Mr. de Gonds. He was the bearer of a great number of letters, and those of Mr. de Bérulle were not the least conspicuous amongst them. Although completely master of himself, Vincent could not entirely conceal the emotion which this last effort produced upon him. Grief and sorrow were painted in his countenance. To calm his first emotion, and place his mind in a situation that might be fit to obey the voice of God, he went to the church, and there threw himself at the feet of that great master, whose councils are. ever salutary. It was his inviolable custom never to take any determination, without consulting him.
Mr. Du Fresne, who was afraid of failing, entered into a conference with his friend. If he did not convince him entirely, he was at least so happy as to persuade him to leave the decision to some wise, virtuous, and disinterested friends. These, after a long and serious discussion, decided in favor of the house of Gondi, and thus Vincent found himself obliged to return to Châtillon only to bid adieu to his beloved parishioners. He assured them, in an exhortation delivered on the occasion, that when Providence led him to Bresse, he did not believe he would ever leave them; hut since it had ordained otherwise, it was his and their duty to submit to its decision. He dia not fail to assure them, that they would always be present to him before God. He conjured them also, not to forget him in their prayers, and he repeated several times that he had great need of them.
If a pastor be permitted to enjoy the pleasure of being tenderly beloved by his flock, Vincent must have then experienced great consolation. He had no sooner announced his departure, than tears flowed from the eyes of all present. There were many among them, who were so unable to restrain their affliction, that it broke out in cries that filled the whole church. Each one believed he had lost all, in losing the man of God. The heretics alone could not conceal their joy. However, although their aversion was already the eulogy of the saint, they could not refuse to render justice to his virtue and talents; and many inhabitants of Châtillon have long remembered these words addressed by some of them to the Catholics: “In losing your curate, you lose the best stone in your religion.”
Every thing we have related, is taken from the two reports drawn up at Châtillon, about four years after the death of the servant of God. A portiun of the second concludes with these beautiful words: “In fine the undersigned say that it would be impossible to point out every thing done in so short a time by Vincent, and they themselves would find difficulty in believing it, had they not seen and heard it. They have so great an esteem for him, that he is spoken of as a saint. They believe that what he did at Châtillon, would be sufficient for hie canonization, and they have no doubt, if he acted elsewhere as he did here, that he would be one day canonized.”
Whilst a part of Bresse was abandoned to tears, and thrown in a state of desolation by the departure of a man • who was looked upon as its apostle, Vincent proceeded to Paris. His return caused as much pleasure to his friends, as his sudden departure had been a source of sorrow to the inhabitants of Châtillon. The pious Madame de Gondi, who, during his absence, shed so many bitter tears, received him as an angel, whom God had sent back to her; to conduct her in the paths of perfection. But that she might not be exposed to future alarm, she made him promise that he would assist her at the moment of her death.
The saint, who had only a general inspection of the Messrs de Gondi, possessed every possible facility to follow his inclination to labor for the salvation of the people of the country. At the beginning of the following year, he gave missions at Villepreux and in the surrounding country. A learned doctor of the house of Navarre, ttvo clerical counsellors in parliament, and many other virtuous priests joined him. After having relieved the wants of the soul, they endeavored to supply those of the body by means of the confraternity of charity. Villepreux was the second parish in the kingdom, in which it was established.
The countess of Joigny saw with incredible pleasure the fruits of sanctification, so visibly attached to the labors of her holy director. But it must be acknowledged that that lady who was possessed of an extraordinary fortitude, notwithstanding her almost continual infirmities, had a great share in all his undertaking. Her presence, the examples of virtue which she gave every where, her charities, the gracious air with which she prodigally bestowed them, affected the people, and rendered their hearts better disposed to receive the seed of the word of God.
The mission of Villepreux was followed by several others, which produced the greatest good in the diocesses of Sens, Beauvais, and Soissons. The one he made at Mootmirel, on account of its circumstances, should not be forgotten. Madame de Gondi, who often resided in that town, knowing that there were three Calvinists in the neighborhood, solicited the saint to undertake their conversion. He consented willingly, proved the catholic doctrine in so solid a manner and answered the difficulties with so much wisdom, that at the end of the first week, two of those gentlemen yielded to the truth.
It was not so with the third: he was a man, who, with very moderate talents, had much conceit of himself; he was always ready to dogmatise, and although his life was bad enough, he made of the bad conduct of some catholics an argumerrt in favor of his cause. It was by such means that he undertook one day to prove that the catholic church could not be led by the spirit of God, “because,” said he, “on one hand the catholics of the country were abandoned to vicious and ignorant curates, and left without instruction concerning their duties, and on the other, the cities filled with priests and monks living in idleness.
This objection on the part of the heretic, affected the servant of God very much. It showed him more forcibly than ever the spiritual wants of the people, and the necessity of aiding them. Yet, not to leave unanswered a difficulty, in which there really was nothing solid, the saint, after having replied that, among the religious who resided in the cities, some were useful to the public by their preaching, and others by their learned works, added, that those who failed in their duty, were, it is true, in the church, because it includes the chaff and the good grain; but that they did not constitute the church; on the contrary, they resisted the Holy Spirit who governs her. So just an answer produced no effect. The neglect of the country people had made so great an impression upon the heretic, that he continued to look upon it as an invincible argument.
To remove such objections, as far as was in his power, Vincent redoubled his efforts. He returned the following year to Montmirel, and overran all the neighborhood with a number of zealous priests and religious. These last missions were attended with the same success as those of Folleville and Villepreux. They soon became a common topic of conversation. The same man, whom our saint could not win the preceeding year, wished to be an eye witness of what was going on. He undertook the examination of the exercises with all the attention of a prejudiced man. He saw, he admired in the servants of God, a charity which accommodated itself to the weakness of the most illiterate. He was witness to the conversion of a great number of sinners, who hastened to expiate their former disorders by penance and by tears. Struck by what he saw, he went to seek the saint, and said to him: “Now I see that the Catholic church is directed by the Spirit of God, since care is taken of the instruction and salvation of the poor country people. I am ready to enter it, whenever you will be pleased to receive me.” Notwithstanding, a difficulty concerning the respect paid to holy images, a difficulty which-the holy priest caused a child to answer, still detained him; and Vincent, who vt*as an enemy to any thing like precipitation, judged it proper to put him off. But at last this man made his abjuration. His return was as sincere as it had been difficult; and he persevered to his death in the faith of the catholic church.
Although the waots of the poor country people were the great object of the zeal and charity of Vincent, he did not stop there. Scarcely had he returned from his missions, when, to relieve himself from the fatigue attendant on that arduous ministry, he visited, like a tender and active father, the hospitals and the prisons. As his inclination always leaned to the side where the most evils were to be remedied, particularly when those who were afflicted had any connexion with the house of Gondi, he was desirous to know how the criminals destined to the galleys were treated. The dungeons of the state-prisons were opened to him: he expected to find in them a great deal of misery, but he found much more than he had an-y idea of. He saw, says his first historian, wretches shut up in obscure caverns, eaten by vermin, attenuated and entirely neglected both for soul and body.
Such hard treatment, which was so much in opposition to the dictates of christiaoity, affected him deeply. Without losing a moment, and under the impressions he had received from that pitiful sight, he addressed himself to the general of the gallies. He represented to him that these poor people belonged to him, and that, whilst they were waiting to be sent to Marseilles, charity made it a duty for him to see that they should not lie deprived of succor or consolation. He laid open all his views, and with the approbation of Mr. de Gondi, he hired and furnished with all possible diligence, a house in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré. He there gathered together all the galley slaves who were scattered through the different prisons of the city. To sustain this good work, which had no other funds than those of Providence, he obtained contributions from those of his friends, who had the means of furnishing the expense. The bishop of Paris seconded his efforts, and by his mandate of the first of June 1618, he directed the curates and preachers to exhort the faithful to favor so holy and so important an enterprise. After being provided for their corporal wants they were in a state to be releived from their spiritual ones. These were great; but assiduity and patience soon overcame every obstacle.
The saint often visited his dear galley slaves ; he spoke to them of God with an eloquence full of sweetness; he made them sensible, that, however involuntary their sufferings were, they could receive them in sdich a manner as to make them meritorious. Ile added that such a disposition would diminish their bitterness, and that after all, there are no real sufferings but those which are to punish crime and Impenitence for a whole eternity.
This kind of discourse made a great impression upon men who were not accustomed to it, and who were rendered more attentive by the kind treatment they received. Marks of sincere sorrow were manifested. General confessions completed in the course of time what exhortations had begun, and Vincent had the consolation to see men, who, in many cases, had forgotten God for a long series of years, approach the holy mysteries with dread tempered by love and gratitude.–
This change,avhich announced in a sensible manner the operation of the Most High, did great honor to our saint, both in Paris and at the court. Mr. de Gondi, as much surprised as edified at the beautiful order which a single man had established among people who had no idea of order before, formed the design of introducing it into all the galleys of France…
He spoke of it to the king; and after having given him a correct idea of the capacity and zeal of Vincent of Paul, he assured him, that if the court would authorize it, he would certainly effect elsewhere the same good, which he had already effected in Paris. Louis XIII, who was possessed of a sincere piety, willingly consented to the proposition; and by a brief of the crown of the eighth of February, he appointed our saint, almoner general of all the gallies of the kingdom.
This new employment, which showed the esteem in which Louis the Just held Vincent, was shortly followed by another, which evinced the judgment which St. Francis of Sales had formed of him. This great bishop, whose name alone recalls the idea of one of the most worthy pontiffs that Jesus Christ ever gave to his church, became acquainted with Vincent, when, after his return from Bresse, the saint entered again into the house of Gondi. A tender charity soon formed a close union between these two great souls. The gift of spiritual discernment which they possessed in an eminent degree, dictated the opinion which they should form of each other. Vincent acknowledged that the mildness, the modesty, the majesty, and whole exterior of Francis of Sales, gave hint an idea of the Son of God conversing with men. Francis of Sales published in his turn, that Vincent was one of the most holy priests he had ever known, and that he saw no one in Paris who had more piety, more prudence, more of those rare qualities which are necessary to lead souli to exalted and solid piety.
These motives determined him to select him the first superior of the religious of the Visitation, whom the blessed Jeanne Frances FJémiot de Chantal had a little before established in the Rue St. Antoine. This choice made by a prelate, who held it for a maxim that even an individual should choose a director amongst ten thousand, and that a man having charge of a religious house should unite to a great virtue an extensive knowledge and great experience; this choice, I say, will serve with all wise persons, as a proof of the merit of Vincent of Paul. But that which serves to exalt his piety infinitely more is, that he saw in this honorable employment only the terrible account by which it was to be followed. In order to render this account less severe, for the greatest saints have trembled at it, he joined to the practice of the sacerdotal virtues the most severe and painful mortifications. Disciplines even to blood, a frightful hair shirt, sharp pointed chains, short sleep and always upon straw, an extraordinary sobriety in eating and drinking, a number of similar austerities, had for a long time entered into his plan of life, and he never deviated from it. This year he performed the spiritual exercises at Soissons with the greatest fervor. It was there that weighing himself in the balance of the sanctuary, he discovered in himself a fault, which might have in time, presented some obstacle to the sanctification of the people, whose salvation and interests God so evidently confided to him.
His air, naturally grave, had in it something austere, particularly kith regard to persons of rank, and his, disposition which inclined him to solitude, rendered an intercoure with him less easy. The poor, with whom he was in his element, did not perceive it; but the great, who look for urbanity even in virtue, sometimes noticed it; and the countess of Joigni who, fearing very much to lose him, feared also that he might be somewhat dissatisfied in her house, manifested her trouble to him from time to time. The holy man, during the retreat which he made at Soissons, examined himself seriously upon this article, and became better acquainted with its importance than he had hitherto been. He had recourse to prayer and to such exact watchfulness, that persons said of him what he himself had said of St. Francis of Sales, that it was difficult to find a man, whose virtue displayed itself in more amiable traits of countenance, or better calculated to gain every heart to God.
The galley slaves experienced it the following year. Vincent performed a journey to Marseilles for their advantage. His object was to examine, whether he could do for them at the extremity of the kingdom, what he had already done in the capital. The execution of this project was by no means easy. It was necessary, at least in part, to reform a multitude of wretches who, most frequently, detest nothing of their crime, but the-punishment by which it is followed; whom excessive chastisement renders -furious, and who indemnify themselves by their blasphemies against God, for the ill-treatment they receive from men.
The saint did not wish to make himself known when he arrived at Marseilles. By that means he avoided the honors attached to the dignity of almoner general, and he took the surest way of becoming well acquainted with the true state of things. He had his reasons for preserving his incognito, and Providence had its own. In going from one side to the other through the gallies to see how things were managed, he perceived a galley-slave who was in despair, because his absence reduced his wife and children to extreme misery. Vincent, terrified at the danger which threatened a man overwhelmed by the weight of his disgrace, and perhaps more unfortunate than guilty, examined for some moments whether it would be possible for him to mitigate the severity of his lot. His imagination, fruitful as it was in expedients, could furnish him none that pleased him. Then, seized upon and carried away as by an impulse of the most ardent charity, he conjured the officer who had charge of that district, to agree that he should take the place of the criminal. God who, when he wishes to display the virtue of his saints, well knows the means of effecting it, permitted the offer to be accepted. It was only some weeks afterwards, that Vincent was recognised; no would he have been known so soon, if the countess of Joigni, astonished at receiving no news of him, had not caused a search to be made, which the saint could not escape. This event was yet remembered at Marseilles, when the priests of the mission were established there, that is to say, more than twenty years afterwards; and it was admitted that, since the time of St. Paulinus, who sold himself to ransom the son of a widow, an example of more surprising and heroic charity had not been witnessed.
Vincent gave all the remainder of the time he spent in that city, to the relief of the galley slaves. It is impossible to give an idea of their state, without recurring to the idea of hell itself. The saint went from rank to rank, like a good father who feels all that is suffered by his children whom he tenderly loves. He listenéd patiently to their complaints; he kissed their chains, and washed them with his tears; he joined, as much as was in his power, alms and alleviation to his exhortations. He also, spoke to the officers and overseers, and inspired them with sentiments of greater humanity. The spirit of peace began to reign, murmurs were hushed, the ordinary almoners could speak of God without being interrupted, and it became evident at last, that the galley slaves were susceptible of virtue.
He would have dome still more, had not the continual moving about of the gallies, which, in time of trouble, have no fixed station, obliged him to return to Paris. He travelled with great rapidity; but an affair of charity arrested his course at Macon. A crowd of beggars having besieged him, he learned from his own customary interrogations, and from the report of the inhabitants, that they were ignorant of the very first principles of faith. He also discovered that they passed their lives in libertinism, and amidst vices and a filth calculated to inspire horror. He undertook to put a stop to this disorder. Nothing, it is true, was more difficult; it was necessary to establish exact discipline amongst men rendered insolent by their number, and to take such measures as to remove all danger of sedition. Those who beard the project spoken of, looked upon it, without hesitation, as a beautiful chimera. Those who were less wise, treated it as folly; the more moderate thought there was much rashness in it: but it was not long before they were undeceived.
The holy man, with the consent of the magistrates and of the bishop, made a regulation by which all these poor people were divided into several classes. He afterwards established two associations, one of men for the males, another of women for the females. In these confraternities, every one had his employment. Some had care of the sick, others of those who were well. These were charged with the poor of the town, others with the strangers, whom they lodged for one night and dismissed the following morning with a little money. The execution of this prudent and natural plan, for which Vincent gave the first alms, changed in a few days the whole face of the town. The citizens were in security, and the beggars assembled in an orderly manner, at regular hours, in places where clothing and food were distributed to them, and where they also received lessons of piety and salvation.
The execution of this project, which at first appeared itnpossible, inspired the inhabitants of Macon with a great idea of the prudence of Vincent of Paul, who, to escape from the honors which were paid him by the magistratcs, the nobility, and all the best people of the country, was obliged to take his departure without their knowledge. The priests of the Oratory alone, with whom he stayed -nearly three weeks, were ac- quainted with it: and it was on this occasion, that entering his chamber at an early hour, they perceived that he slept on straw. He concealed this mortification as well as he could; but great as was the pain he took to do so, as well as to hide his other virtues, it is known that he practised it to the day of his death, that is to say, for fifty years. The plan of the confraternity of which we have just spoken,-appeared so beautiful to the assembly of the clergy held at Portoise, in 1670, that by a deliberation of the nineteenth of November, 1675, they exhorted all the bishops of the kingdom to establish it in their diocesses.
Alter having completed the business which called hint to Paris, he formed the design of giviog a general mission upon the gallies. It was more necessary than ever, at a time when France was all in a flame, and when heresy was ever ready to revolt by sea and land. He then set out for Bordeaux, where there were ten gallies. The cardinal de Sourdis, archbishop of that metropolis, a prelate whose piety was as enlightened as it was fervent, whose zeal for the re-establishment of discipline, whose charity for the poor, caused him to be looked upon as another St. Charles Borromeo, could not fail to support with all his authority, a man who was vested with that of the prince, and whose name had already reached the extremities of the kingdom. The saint selected, from the different monasteries of the city, twenty of the beast evangelical laborers he could find, and distributed them two and two in each galley. As for bititself, he was every where, and it may be said that if the unction attached to his words penetrated the hardest hearts, his example animated those who labored with him, and supported them in the fatigues of the ministry. The consolations of heaven were not wanting to him; and amongst others he had that of gaining a Mahometan to God. This proselyte, who was called Louis at his baptism, followed his benefactor every where. He honored him as his father, and a long time after his death, he told all whu would listen to him, that, next to God, he owed his conversion to Vincent.
After this mission, Vincent, who found himself in the neighborhood of his family, determined, by the advice of some friends, to pay a visit to his relations. His design was to strengthen them in virtue, teach them to cherish their humble condition, and declare to them once for all, that being able to live as they had hitherto done by the labor of their hands, they should expect nothing from him. He stopped at the house of the curate of Pouy, his friend and relation; he edified him as well as the rest of his family by his piety, his temperance, his mortification; he renewed his baptismal promises in the parish church; he consecrated himself anew to the Lord in this place, where he had received the first impressions of the apostolical spirit. On the day of his departure, he went, barefooted, in procession, from the church of Pouy to the chapel of Notre Dame de Buglose, a distance of a league and a half. His brothers, sisters, and other relations, rich and poor, and almost all the inhabitants of the place, assisted at that pious ceremony. The saint celebrated a solemn mass in that sanctuary, which was then more venerated than evtr, because they had replaced in it, a short time before, in 1620, a statue of the Blessed Virgin, which a shepherd had discovered in a marsh, where some pious persons had secretly buried it more than fifty years before, to save it from the fury of the calvinists. After this ceremony, the saint gave a frugal repast to all his relations. He then blessed them,.and bid them farewell forever. He conjured them never to abandon the simplicity in which God had placed them. Humiliation for himself and for his, was one of the favors of which he was most ambitious upon earth.
Although Vincent had visited his family by the advice of his friends, he reproached himself with it for a long time, as contrary to the spirit of self-denial so often recommended in the scripture to the ministers of the gospel. The trouble and affliction, which the sight of the poor and suffering situation, in which be had left a great portion of his relations, caused him for three months, appeared to his tender piety a species of punishment from God; and it was only by fervent prayers that he succeeded in calming this new tempest. He had no less affection for those whom nature had so closely united to him, and it was to afford them proofs of a perfect and religious attachment, that some time afterwards he engaged virtuous ecclesiastics to make a mission at Pouy and the neighboring parishes. He soon commenced another himself in the diocess of Chartres. The great good which it produced gave birth at last to a company of priests destined to labor for the sanctification of the people of the country. We will explain its origin ; the course of years will develop its progress.
Madame de Gondi, struck by the happy success attending the first missions of Vincent, had, since the year 1617, formed the design of giving to some community a fund of 16000 livres, to have missions made, every five years, throughout all her territories. Vincent, to whom she entrusted the employment of this sum, addressed himself to the Jesuits, the Fathers of the Oratory, and to the superiors of different houses. All excused themselves from accepting it; some, be-. cause they were too few in number; others, because they had already sufficient obligations, without contracting new ones. Providence, in permitting this general refusal, had its own views, and it was the countess of Joigni, who unfolded them. She reflected that, as almost every year a number of doctors and virtuous ecclesiastics united with her director, to labor in the country, a kiod of perpetual community might be formed, if a house could be procured where they might assemble and live in common. The count, her husband, spoke of it to the archbishop of Paris, who was his brother. That prelaté justly thought, that such an establishment could not be but very advantageous to his diocess. He approved of it without hesitation; and not being able, at the time, to do better, he established Vincent of Paul, with the title of principal, in an old college, founded towards the middle of the thirteenth century, under the name des Bons-Enfans. This college, which St. Louis honored with his protection, had at this time a chapel which was extremely poor, some apartments in a bad state, and in the neighborhood a certain number of houses which were falling to ruins. Such was the cradle which God chose for a congregation, which after having spread itself throughout a great part of the kingdom, became multiplied in Italy and Poland, where, through the mercy of God, it is equally dear to the clergy and the people. It was on the first day of March 1624, that Vincent was appointed principal of this college, and the 6th of the same month, Antoine Portail, one of his first companions, took possession of it in his name. I had forgotten to mention that the holy priest had received a licentiate in canon law some time before.
The following year, the general of the gallies and his consort consummated this great affair. They say in substance. in .the deed of foundation, that having considered that, whilst the inhabitants of the cities are well instrutted, and the country people remain as it were abandoned, they thought it a duty to bestow the sum of forty thousand livres, to procure for them, all the aid they stand in need of; gratuitously; that, in placing this sum in the hands of Vincent of Paul, in order that he may choose in the course of a year ecclesiastics capable of laboring usefully under his direction, the said persons understand that he shall always reside in their house, to continue to render, both to themselves and their family, the spiritual assistance which he has afforded them for several years.: that.those who wish to associate in this good work, will consider it a main point, that they cannot either preach, or administer any sacrament in large towns, except in cases of evident necessity : that moreover they shall be obliged to render spiritual assistance to the poor galley sleves to make them profit by their corporal sufferings. -This is an abridgment of the contract. It would be difficult to find one, which exhibits in a stronger light the sincere piety and perfect disinterestedness of these illustrious founders. They forgot themselves, and seemed to be entirely occupied with the care of the poor. They gave.enough to require much. Yet, for fear•of with- drawing the laborers from their principal object, they did not load them with obligations, nor even with prayers to be applied personally to themselves. The equity of Vincent of Paul and the gratitude of his children, have abundantly supplied for it; the precious remnants of the house of Gondi now lost in those of Lesdiguires and Villeroi, will always have the first share in all the ,00d done .by the missionaries of the kingdom, as well as by those who labor in foreign lands.
Some time after this contract was made, Mr. de Gondi set out for Provence, where new movements on the part of the rebels, required his presence. Our saint followed him sooner than he expected, as the bearer of the most afieting.news he could receive. The countess of Joigni was still in the flower of her age, but was already ripe for heaven. Two months had scarcely elapsed, since the foundation of the missions, when she fell sick. The malady appeared dangerous from the beginning. The habitual infirmities of this pious lady, the weakness of her constitution, the efforts she had made to establish the kingdom of God throughout her possessions, led to the conclusion, that she would scarcely be able to resist the violence of the disease. She felt it herself, at first, but she felt it as a true christian.. Spiritually stronger and more fervent in proportion as her body was enfeebled, she profited by every moment that remained to her Supported, animated by the holy director, whom she had secured for herself particularly for these last moments, she waited with a kind of impatience peculiar to the elect, for the blow which was to immolate her. It was not long delayed : and whilst her family, overwhelmed with grief, wept aloud the loss they were about to experience, the virtuous dying lady closed her eyes to the grandeur of the world, which had never dazzled her, to open them to that immortal glory, which had always been the centre and the object of all her desires.
Thus died, on the twenty-third of June 172, in her forty-second year, the illustrious and virtuous , Frances Margaret de Silly, countess of Joigni, marchioness des Isles d’Or, &c. The tears which the good, and the poor in particular, shed upon her tomb, are sufficient for her eulogy. Great by the dignity of her birth, and by alliances which united her with the most noble houses of Europe, she was still greater by her piety towards God, by her compassion for the unfortunate, by her watchfulness in her family, by her zeal for the salvation of all those to whom she could make herself useful; in fine, by the most perfect assemblage of all those rare virtues, which the great ones of the world know little, and practice still less. Her name will be sufficiently conspicuous in history and will subsist as long as those of Luxembourg, Laval, Montmorency, de la Rocheguyon, and of so many heroes from whom she was descended. But we must admit, at the same time, that she owed the most beautiful traits of her glory to the saint whose life we are writing. Formed by him to the most sublime perfection, she will be remembered as long as the saint himself. Her virtues, like those of Vincent of Paul, will be traced in indelible characters; and the most distant regions will never announce the merit and labors of that good mao, without praising her, who so generously seconded his most glorious undertakings.
Vincent having paid her the last tribute of respect, set out immediately to communicate this afflicting intelligence to the general, who was still in Provence. He used all the precautions necessary on such an occasion. He disposed the count of Joigni by degrees, to adore all the dispensations of Providence. He spoke to him at first of all the favors with which heaven had loaded him and his family. He added that the more God had signalised his mercy towards him, the more love and gratitude he owed for it that man never evinces that. gratitude better, than when he conforms his will to that of the Lord; and that a perfect submission is the sacrifice the most agreeable in his eyes. At last he apprised him of his loss. After having left to nature its first emotions, which virtue cannot disavow, he made use, to mitigate his grief, of all the motives which faith suggests,’ and which are never stronger, than when employed by christian simplicity.
It is evident, and it has been often remarked before, that no one possessed in a greater degree than Vincent, the gift of consoling the afflicted. Madame de Gondi had experienced it a hundred times; and in the violent interior pains with which it pleased God to exercise her, she never ‘found more solid consolation than in the words of the holy priest. Hence, arose, in part, that singular esteem which she had for him. She gave him sensible marks of it in her will, less by the legacy which she left him, than by conjuring him, in the most moving manner, never to abandon either the general of the gales or her children after her death.
Such was not, however, the will of God. Vincent who had gone to the house of the general, only because he could not avoid it, and who, on the other hand, had the greatest horror for the world, intreated Mr. de Gondi, to permit him to retire. This virtuuus nobleman was greatly afflicted at the proposal; but as he was accustomed to examine things before God, he easily conceived that the rising company of Vincent of Paul stood in need of his presence, and that his remaining in the house of Gondi would, at least, retard the work of God, if it did not ruin it altogether. ” The general knew well, that, however pure the air breathed in the best regulated secular houses, it is always very different from that found in solitude; hence, a short time after the death of his wife, he himself renounced all human greatness, and entered into the congregation of the Oratory. It was there, that during upwards of thirty-five years that he yet lived, he distinguished himself as much by his piety, mortification, and invincible patience, as he had been illustrious in the world by his courage and zeal in the service of the king.
Vincent of Paul retired, in 1625, to the college des Bons Enfans. He was followed thither by Antoine Portail, a priest. of the diocess of Arles. The latter had been for nearly fifteen years his declared disciple, and he made, under the direction of the saint, so great progress in humility, that, although a man of much merit, having made very good studies in the Sorbonne, and being an excellent writer, he sought only to be unknown, or rather despised.
As it was impossible that these two priests should long support the fatigue of the missions, and satisfy the devotion of the people, they begged of a third to join them for a time. The whole three went from village to village, catechising, exhorting, confessing, and performing all the other exercises of their institute. They did so with a simplicity, humility, and disinterestedness that gained the hearts of all. Every day the harvest became more abundant, and new laborers were soon wanted. Providence, which had given birth to the congregation, took charge of its. increase. Six other priests offered themselves to share his labors. They were almost all doctors in theology, or disciples of the school of Sorboone: but although the holy founder esteemed their talents, he esteemed much more their humility, and the zeal with which they burned for the salvation of souls.
Louis XIII., to whom the count. of Joigni gave an account of this happy commencement, authorized the new association by letters patent. The public voice sustained it against a cabal which sought to stifle it at its birth. The wisest ‘magistrates supported it. The parliament of Paris placed the seal of its authority on it, in 1613; and Urban VIII, delighted that under his pontificate the most neglected sheep of the flock of Jesus Christ, should find faithful and disinterested pastors, erected it into a congregation the following year. His bull, which is dated January twelfth 1.625, places Vincent at the head of all those who are to labor with him, and gives him power to draw up rules for the good order of his institute. Those who embraced it were to bear the name of Priests of the .Mission; and this name is so attributed to them by the holy see, that it is by it, that the sovereign pontiff distinguishes• them, even from the other ministers of the word, who labor for the salvation of the people. Thus the missionaries and the children of Vincent of Paul, will be,•in the course of this work, synonymous terms.
Whilst Gcd was thus taking in hand the interests of his servant, that holy priest did not forget those of God. He divided his little troop in different bodies: and after having inspired them with the holy fervor with which he was himself doimated, he sent them to the places, where he thought their presence was most necessary. His spirit was every where with them; but he did not rest satisfied with raising his hands upon the mountain like Joshua, he also combatted in the plain, and there is every reason to believe that he was always found in the most difficult encounters. The province of Lyons, the wants of which he knew, fell to his lot. If he,did great good there, his priests were equally successful in all the places in which they labored. We may form an idea of it by a letter which he received at the end of the year 1627, from a very celebrated abbé. “1 have just arrived,” says he, “from a long journey which I made into four provinces. In truth, I do not believe that there is any thing in the church of God more edifying than the sweet odor which your holy company spreads every where. We must pray to God to give additional solidity to a design so advantageous for the good of souls, to which very few of those who are dedicated to the service of God apply as they ought.”
This letter consoled Vincent of Paul very much. But, as in extolling the labors of his priests, it reminded him, both of the wants of the country people, and of the absence of zeal or talents in those who were charged with their salvation, he took a new resolution to arrest the course of this double torrent, which carried away the flock, only because it had first carried away the shepherds. As to the people, as nothing better could be done than to procure for them solid and moving instructions, he continued to send them fervent missionaries, whose labors were recompensed by God with a success which,.as we shall see hereafter, astonished a -great part of .Europe. With regard to the pastors, he judged wisely; that he would have very soon to see the country people a prey to their former abases, or to adopt the plan of forming priests better calculated to maintain the reign of virtue, than were the greater part of those who were obliged to lead them.
Vincent had not yet formed so extensive a project; but he could scarcely form one more necessary. Happily the state of affairs rendered it a little more practicable, than it had been for a long time. La Rochelle, which had been, as it were, the centré of the forces of heresy, had just surrendered to Louis XIII. The bishops began to breathe, and those who had most zeal for the reform of the clergy, urged it with more energy than ever.
Adrien Bourdoise, a man full of ardor for the interests of the Ldrd, was an intimate friend of Vincent of Paul, and as they both were acquainted with the most virtuous prelates of the church of France, and were both animated by the same spirit, hey could not but be inspired with the same sentiments. One of those with whom they conferred most frequently concern-mg the wants of the clergy, was Mr. Augustin Potier de Gévres, bishop of Beauvais, whose pastoral vigilance and love of discipline have acquired for hint .a very great and very • just reputation. This prudent prelate, upon the .plan proposed to him by our saint, resolved to make of his palace a kind of seminary, to receive into it those who were preparing for holy orders, and to make them discuss, in a regular course of conferences, the principal points which it was necessary for them to know and practice. Vincent approved this project very much, and, at the solicitation of Mr. de Gévres, be made a distribution of the matters which should engage the attention of the ordinands. He opened the exercises; two doctors of Sorbonne shared the labor with him, but he was more occupied than any one. He explained the Decalogue; and he did it with so much accuracy, strength and unction, that a great number of those who assisted at the exercises, and even of those who gave them with him, desired to make a general confession to him. This was not the only benediction which God gave to his journey; for, having found some protestants who wished to enter upon a contest with him, he showed them so well the weakness, even the ridiculousness, of their pretended reformation, that three of them were reunited to the catholic church.
About two years after this essay of a retreat given to the ordinands, Jean François de Gondi, first archbishop of Paris, learned from Mr. de Gévres the great fruit which these exercises began to produce in his diocess. That prelate, afflicted at seeing the young ecclesiastics of the capital in want of a means of instruction, which had been procured for those of the provinces, obliged, by his mandate of the twenty-first of February 1661, all those who were to be admitted to orders to make a retreat of ten days; as a preparation, in the college des Bons Enfans. Vincent, in the absence of his priests who were almost always in the country, called to his aid those who being filled with the spirit of God, were the best suited to communicate it to others. Thus, Mr. Hallier, whose virtue and science placed him afterwards in the see of Cavaillon, gave the instructions for the first ordination in this college; and he succeeded perfectly, because, as Mr. Bourdoise remarked, he said nothing that he did not practice himself. The archbishop of Paris was not the only one to acknowledge the utility of this new species of exercises. Seculars, even women, wondered at the change which took place in the ecclesiastics of their parishes. They were found to be more grave, more modest, more attentive in performing the ceremonies; and persons distinguished the clergymen of Paris, who were admitted to the retreats of the ordinands, from those of other diocesses who had not had the happiness to participate in them. Tbis induced some pious ladies to propose to the holy priest to receive, without distinction of.country, all those who aspired to holy orders. The lady of the president de Herse took upon herself the expense for five years. The marchioness of Maignelai, sister of the archbishop, a lady of tender charity, and who had a very particular esteem for Vincent, favored him also. Ann of Austria, who, having heard one of the discourses delivered by the new bishop of Boulogne, Frangois de Perrochel, felt how important it was for the clergy to continue to form young ecclesiastics in this manner, gave intimation of a design to make a royal foundation; but as princes themselves cannot always do what they wish, the project was abandoned; and soon afterwards, the burthen of the expense which, as there were at that time six ordinations a year, amounted to the nourishment, during two months every year, of eighty ecclesiastics, fell upon the society alone.
The saint easily perceived that he would. have great difficulty in supporting it, and his friends begged him to pay attention to it. But that great heart, which preferred the glory and the utility of the church to the temporal interest of his company, far from changing his first design, added, some years after, new burthens to the first; and when in 1646, a decree was issued at the archbishopric, that those who were to receive the minor orders should malte the retreat with those who were preparing for holy orders, he received them all with a tender and respectful affection.
He was naturajly pathetic; but he seemed to surpass himself, when it was necessary to animate his companions to consecrate themselves entirely to the good of the aspirants to orders. He had such lively feelings with regard to the dignity of the priesthood and the contempt into which it had fallen, that it is scarcely possible to express them. His grief and his tears redoubled, particular]y when he saw the church in danger of sustaining new losses; because, like the holy doctors, he laid all to the account of bad priests. These sentiments, so worthy of a minister of the altar, shone forth during the troubles by which France was agitated towards the middle of the last century, and perhaps still more at the time when the formidable Charles Gustavus appeared to announce to Casimir the loss of his kingdom and to the Roman Church the seduction of a considerable portion of her flock. It was then that the holy priest, whose humility always induced him to believe that he contributed more than any one else to the evils which religion suffered, redoubled his efforts to prepare for the Lord, ministers capable of appeasing his wrath, and to induce his companions to labor as much as possible for that end. He represented to them that the church was ruined in numberless places, and that it was so only in consequence of the disorders of the priests; that it was to them we should attribute the deplorable decrease which afflicted it in Africa and a considerable portion of Europe; that they knew that France was not free from the contagion; and that Poland, already ,much infected by error, was, by the invasion of the king of Sweden, in danger of being entirely lost to religion; that, in fine, it was to be feared, lest God, wearied by our excesses, would remove his church to strange nations.
From these principles, the holy mall drew two consequences, which equally prove his humility and his zeal. The first was, that those of his congregation, and himself more than any other, should humble themselves hefore God at the sight of their misery : the second, that, very far from considering as a burthen the expense and trouble, necessary to instruct the ordinands, they should look upon it as a special favor; “a favor,” said he, “which God has granted to us in prefer ence to so many others, so much more worthy of it”.
‘Pile means which he desired to he used for the success of the retreats of the candidates for orders, corresponded to his virtue and to the esteem which he had for the priesthood. Persuaded that the success of such enterprises is io the hands of God, he earnestly recommended to his whole house prayer, fervent communions, mortifications, and every thing that could serve to draw down the dew of heaven, both upon those who labored and those for whom they labored. It was also his desire that, on whatever side the ordinands should turn, they should find examples calculated to instruct and edify them. In fine, he gave strict orders that nothing reasonable should be omitted to please them.
With regard to the instructions, which are an essential part of these exercises, some of which turned upon the virtues necessary for a minister who would save himself and save his brethren, others upon the principal points of moral theology, he required detail, and in that detail great simplicity. He could not bear to hear those pompous sermons, which seem only calculated to please the ear. Every discourse which only served to gain applause for its author was, in his opinion, not only useless but pernicious. He attributed the great success of the instructions of the bishop of Sarlat, to the even and natural style which he used; and he remarked to his priests that others “who thought to do wonders by preaching fashionably, spoiled every thing.”
Although exercises so short, so rapid, and with which our saint was satisfied only because it was not in his power to continue them longer, must naturally have had a limited success, God was pleased to give a blessing to them, which we must consider as the fruit of the prayers and sighs of his servant. The bishops of Angoulême, Reims, Noyon, Chartres, Saintes &c. to whom lie had sent priests to preside at the retreat of their candidates for orders, wrote to him to testify their gratitude. All their letters said as much as that the towns and country blessed God for so great a good; that the people struck by The modesty of the ecclesiastics, shed tears of joy: that charmed with the order, decency and piety with which the new priests performed the divine offices, they imagined they saw angels from heaven rather than men.
The fruit produced by similar retreats at Rome was not less consoling. Urban VIII had established the priests of the mission, in 1642, at Monte Citorio. They began, the following year, to receive into their house those who came of their own accord to prepare for ordination. The hand of God was with them in the capital of the ehristian world, as it had been elsewhere: and it was there discovered that three or four priests animated by the spirit of God, were sufficient to sanctify a great number of others. Alexander Vii was so well aware of it, that, under his pontificate, assiduity in attending those pious exercises became a necessary condition for the holy orders. Front that time, it has pleased God to sustain them. Innocent Xl, to whose virtues even heresy had rendered justice, went still further than his predecessors. He extended,-in part, to all the priests, and even to the cuates of Rune, what had at first been established for the aspirants to holy orders alone. The capital served, as is almost always the case, as n model to the provinces. Cardinal Barbarigo, bishop of Bergame, was one of the first who employed the missionaries to perform the exercises in his diocess. He sometimes took a part in those which were performed at Monte-Citorio ; and afterwards a number of cardinals, prelates, generals of orders, were seen there as much affected, as the ordinands themselves, at the beautiful discourses of cardinal Albici and cardinal de Sainte Croix. The plan of inviting persons distinguished for their erudition or their employments to the exercises for ordination, originated with Vincent of Paul. He knew that, although the word of God is of itself full of power,it nevertheless appears to have more energy in the mouth of those whom a great name has made superior to other men. It is upon this principle, that Bossuet, Féitélon, and ninny other great bishops, before and Mier them, have more than once given the instructions at St. Lazarus to the candidates for orders, with a noble and energetic simplicity.
If heaven did not always bless immediately the labors of’ the holy priest, it often indemnified him with interest for the delay. Jean Armand le Boothiltier de Rancé, who has become more illustrious for his virtues, than the had been fanions by his disorders, is a striking proof of it. “It was,” says a writer celebrated for his misfortunes, “it was under the direction of the illustrious Vincent of Paul, so well known for his piety, his zeal, and for so many virtues which he displayed, that the young de Rancé made his retreat… The holy man forgot nothing to inspire him with the dispositions required in a man who was destined to the first employments of the hierarchy. It was necssary to begin by reforming his exterior. Interior dispositions were the next point. The spirit of’ retreat, separation from the world, mortification, humility, prayer, were the virtues that Vincent principally endeavored to inspire him with He afterwards spoke to him of the multitude of benefices he possessed against the rules of the church. This morality alarmed the young abbot… but the seed skilfully sown, did not fail to put forth, and produce fruit in its time.” Now of how many others may we not suppose what Dom Gervais here says of one man?
The application with which St. Vincent labored to reform the clergy, did not cause him to forget the wants of the poor country people. He had established, as we have elsewhere seen, the confraternities of charity, wherever he could. But as neither he nor his priests, overwhelmed by the weight of innumerable other labors, could visit them, except very seldom, it was to be feared that the first ardor of an association so useful, might cool by degrees, and that the poor would fall into the same state, from which he had had so much trouble to withdraw them. The holy priest ardently desired that Providence would raise up some charitable person, who would be calculated to visit the country, sustain the persons of whom the confraternities were composed, train them to the service of the sick, keep up amongst them the spirit of mercy which had been the principle of their charitable association.
It was not long, before God quieted the uneasiness of his servant. He had scarcely entered the college des Bons En-fans, when the illustrious Madame Le Gras took, without knowing it, a house which was not far from his. This incomparable woman, who, in the opinion of five great bishops, was granted to the age, to convince it that neither delicacy of constitution, nor the bonds of society, are invincible obstacles to the highest perfection, was born at Paris, on the twelfth of August 1591, of Louis de Marillac, lord of Ferrieres, and of Marguerite Le Camus. The beauty of her mind induced her father to make her study philosopy; and whilst still young, she was considered capable of the most elevated sciences. But grace had taught her lessons, which the greatest masters cannot teach; and if the weakness of her constitution, did not permit her to enter, as she desired to do, into a very rigorous order (the Capuchins), her marriage with Antoine Le Gras, secretary to queen Mary de Medicis, did not prevent her from deserving in a few years the glorious title of mother of the poor. She rendered them all the services of the most humble, ardent, and industrious charity. She visited then, without paying attention to the quality of their diseases; she herself presented them the nourishment of which they stood in need; she made their beds with much more affection than a hired servant would have done; she consoled them with,expressions full of tenderness, and she buried them after–their death.
Jean Pierre Camus, bishop of Belley, the great friend of St. Francis of Sales, and consequently of Vincent of Paul, was the director of Madame Le Gras. This prelate was almost as much occupied in moderating her fervor and zeal as in calming the interior pains which, for several years, had troubled the peace of her soul. But as the obligation of residing in his diocess, put it out of his power to give her the aid which she needed, he was desirous of choosing a director for her, who would be capable of helping and strengthening her. Vincent of Paul was the one upon whom he cast his eyes. God soon made it manifest, that it was himself who conducted the whole affair, and that he wished to make use of those two great hearts, to give to his church a new company of virgins entirely consecrated to works of charity.
Madame Le Gras, who had just lost her husband, divided her time between the exercise of prayer and that of charity. She gave to the relief of the indigent, all the time which she did not spend in those fundamental duties, which regard God more immediately than our neighbor. But her zeal received a new impulse on seeing a director, always ready to sacrifice himself when he could be useful to his brethren. After his example she conceived the design of consecrating her life to the service of the poor, and cooperating with all her power in the great designs which, the holy priest was every day forming in favor of the poor. Vincent, who was on his guard against precipitate steps, wished to try her, and the trial lasted nearly four years. He directed her to spend a part of her time, in consulting God in retreat, and imbibing in the frequent reception of the body and blood of our Lord the spirit of light and strength which was necessary for her.
This delay, which was for her a sort of novitiate, only served to confirrh her in her first design. The activity with which she embraced, during this interval, all the occasions of practising charity that presented themselves, at last proved to her director that it was time to set her at work, and that, having all the virtues which St. Paul requires in true widows, charity could present no duty, however repulsive, of which this truly strong woman was not capable. Upon this principle, he proposed to her, in 1629, to undertake to visit a portion of the places where charitable associations had been formed, in order to honor the journeys which charity had caused the Son of God to perform, and participate in his labors, his fatigues and the contradictions which he experienced in them.
The pious widow obeyed the voice of the saint, as that of God himself. To remove even the shadow of dissipation, which insensibly mingles with the most holy journeys, the wise director took such proper measures, that the travels of Madame Le Gras served to make her more recollected and more fervent. She was always accompanied by some pious ladies. The most inconvenient conveyance was preferred to any other. They were to live very poorly, in order to take a greater share in the misery of the poor. Their exercises of piety were performed as regularly on the road as in the house. The day of their departure they went to communion, in order to receive by a closer union with Jesus Christ a more abundant communication of his charity, and a surer pledge of his protection. In the course of the journey the.y often raised their eyes towards the holy mountains to invoke the necessary aid. With such precautions, persons may travel a long time without experiencing any diminution of fervor. Thus, far from ever perceiving any in Madame Le Gras, she was always found to return to Paris more virtuous than she had left it.
She applied herself during several years consecutively to these exercises of charity. She visited with great fruit the diocesses of Soissons, Paris, Beauvais, Meaux, Senlis, Chartres and Chalons in Champagne. When she arrived in a village, she called together the ladies who composed the association of charity. She showed them the value of their employment, by giving them the instructions which they required to fulfil it well. When they were too few to bear the burthen, she increased the number. She taught them by her example to wait upon the sick who were in the most desperate situation: she supplied by her alms their funds, which were often exhausted: and to enable them to continue their good works more easily, she distributed, at her own expense, clothes and things necessary for the relief of the poor and sick. After the example of her director, who made use of the health of the body as a means of procuring- that of the soul, the zealous and holy widow labored for the one only to attain the other. Thus, she did not confine herself to allaying the sufferings of the dying or the hunger of the indigent; she planted the kingdom of God in the hearts of the young persons of her own sex. With the consent of the curates, without which she was forbidden w undertake any thing, she catechised, in some convenient house, the young girls who were not sufficiently instructed. If there was a school mistress, she taught her, almost without its being perceived, how to perform her duty well; if there was none, she endeavored to find one who had the necessary dispositions; and in order to train her, she gave the first lessons in her presence.
Enterprises so holy, and which would have done honor to a Paula and a Fabiola, were often censured; but they were more frequently and more universally applauded. It was to caution her against the slightest impressions of pride which might arise from such marked esteem, that Vincent prescribed to her as a rule, amidst the honors paid her, to raise her heart to Jesus Christ loaded with insults. But, to moderate at the same time the fire of her activity, which carried her much beyond’the strength of her constitution, he frequently exhorted her, to take care of herself for the love of our Lord and of the poor who are his members. He even told her in positive terms, that one of the artifices which the devil uses with most success to deceive those who belong to God, is to prompt them to undertake more than they are able to perform, in order that they may soon be rendered unable to do that of which they were capable.
Whilst Madame Le Gras was practising with a sort of excess, all the duties of a tender and laborious charity, Vincent was not inactive. He was already at the head of all the good works which regarded the advantage of his neighbor; and he was this year the cause of the success of one, which ran a great risk of falling to the ground. The Marchioness of Maignelai, who willingly seized every occasion of promoting the honor of God, had founded in 1618 an asylum, to arrest the disorders of the persons of her own sex. In a short time, a considerable number presented themselves, who appeared delighted to find a harbor after their shipwreck. But it was soon found, that this institution wanted an essential part, and that there was in it no one capable of conducting it. The holy priest, to whom they had recourse after twelve years of useless efforts, followed his ordinary course. He consulted God; and upon his answer, of which he gave an account to the archbishop of Paris, he destined four religious of the Visitation to fill the first places in the monastery of the Magdelaine.
This plan, like most of those that relate to the glory of the Lord, experienced the greatest opposition. But at last the difficulties vanished in the hands of a man, whose great sense furnished him with infinite resources. The daughters of St. Francis of Sales, who were at first much alarmed at the difficulties of this new employment, acquitted themselves of it with their usual zeal and capacity. They gained every hear by the mildness and attention which characterise their institute. Charity made them absolute mistresses; and they regula. ted that numerous community so well, that it afterwards produced those of Rouen and Bordeaux. It is true that the saint was of great service to them, either by the wise counsels which he gave them personally, or by his letters, or the good confessors whom he procured for them. But the zeal and labor of those virtuous ladies is not the less estimable. A child loses nothing of his glory, by sharing it with his father.
The holy joy, with which the happy success of so many good works must have filled a heart so sensible to the interests of God as was that of Vincent of Paul, was troubled by the death of the cardinal de Bérulle, who, that very year, 1629, expired at the holy altar in the arms of his well beloved. Vincent lost in him a friend and a father; but what afflicted him most was, that the church lost in him a model of the priesthood. To indemnify it, at least in part, for that loss, he opened the doors of his house to ecclesiastics who might wish either to reconcile themselves to God after having wandered from him, or to resume in solitude the courage they stood in need of to walk with new ardor in the arduous paths of the ministry. As these retreats never made more noise than after Vincent took possession of the house of St. Lazarus, it will be proper before entering into further detail, to point out the manner in which this establishment was made. This we shall develop in the following book.